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Company barred from mentioning standard in negligence case

August 29, 2016

A company being sued for negligent design by a man who fell out of its utility truck bucket and became paralyzed may not mention a specific design standard at a new trial on the issue, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

Anthony Wade worked for Richmond Power as an apprentice lineman in 1997 when he stepped out of a bucket after finishing an installation and fell 12 feet after missing an exterior step. He was rendered quadriplegic as a result of the fall. He sued Terex-Telelect Inc., the manufacturer of the bucket and boom on the truck he used, alleging the company was negligent under the Indiana Product Liability Act in the design of the bucket.

The bucket, produced to meet Richmond Power’s specifications, included an exterior step with an interior recess which extended into the hollowed out portion of the external step. Wage alleged the design of the bucket caused the interior step to be covered up, which led to his fall.  

The first trial ended in a hung jury. The second trial occurred in 2010, in which the jury ruled in favor of Terex and Dueco, a distributor of Terex products, finding them at zero fault. But the Court of Appeals in a split decision reversed, finding the trial court erroneously instructed the jury regarding rebuttable presumption that the bucket was not defective and/or that Terex was not negligent in the manufacture and design because of its compliance with applicable codes, regulations and specifications, specifically American National Standards Institute Standard A92.2.

At his third trial, Wade filed motions in limine to exclude any reference to ANSI A92.2 at the trial, which the court granted believing the COA opinion ruled on the matter and prevented the evidence at the new trial. This led to an interlocutory appeal.

The COA in this appeal concluded that the law of the case prevents the evidence from being admitted. The evidence before the appellate court now is the same that was before it in Terex I, Judge Robert Altice noted. The only difference is that in the prior appeal, the argument was made at the jury instruction state, while now it is being made at the motion in limine stage. The judges agreed that evidence concerning ANSI A92.2 and Terex’s compliance with it is irrelevant to the design defect alleged by Wade.

Terex maintained that the standard and the company’s compliance with it is relevant and therefore admissible because the jury must consider such evidence in evaluating the reasonableness of Terex’s actions in designing and manufacturing the bucket. But again, compliance with this standard is not relevant because the standard is silent with regard to the defect alleged by Wade, Altice wrote.

The case is Terex-Telelect, Inc. v. Anthony Wade, 29A02-1511-CT-1949.
 

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