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Summary judgment affirmed for machine rental company in negligence case

September 18, 2017

A machine rental company did not owe a duty to train or offer to train a man who later died while using the boom lift on how to use the equipment and, thus, was entitled to summary judgment on a negligence claim brought by his estate, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

Beginning in 2008, MacAllister Machinery Co. Inc. and MacAllister Rental LLC, which operated equipment rental facilities, began leasing boom lifts to Scepter Inc., which operated a secondary aluminum recycling facility. Every rental was accompanied by an Equipment Condition Report from MacAllister, which noted the user of the equipment should ensure that only properly trained personnel would operate it.

During the afternoon of Feb. 3, 2012, Scepter employee Mitch Arthur was using a rented boom lift to access the inside of the hood of a smelting furnace, a task he had successfully completed in the past. While moving the boom lift out from under the hood, Arthur became trapped and was killed.

After Arthur’s death, the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined MacAllister had violated industry standards when the driver who delivered the lift to Scepter did not offer training to the Scepter employees who received it. However, IOSHA later cleared MacAllister of that violation after MacAllister asserted that it had offered individualized and group training at the beginning of its relationship with Scepter and that Scepter had not requested any training.

Arthur’s estate then filed a complaint against the lift manufacturer and MacAllister, asserting product liability and negligence claims. The complaint against the manufacturer was ultimately dismissed, and MacAllister filed for summary judgment.

The Knox Circuit Court granted that motion and the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in the case of Carla S. Arthur, as Special Representative of the Estate of Mitch Arthur, deceased v. MacAllister Machinery Co., Inc., and MacAllister Rental, LLC, 42A01-1610-CT-2307. Judge Robert Altice, writing for the unanimous court, wrote in a footnote that the product liability claim against MacAllister was barred by the statute of repose, so only the negligence claim could proceed.

On appeal, Arthur’s estate claimed MacAllister “had an affirmative duty to inquire as to the application in which the boom lift was going to be used and the train, or offer to train, Scepter employees on how to properly operate the boom lift.” But pointing to the American National Standard for Boom-Supported Elevating Work Platforms, ANSI/SIA A92.5-2006, Altice wrote MacAllister only had a duty to offer training and did not have to make that offer directly to the employee who might operate the lift.

Further, Altice wrote the standards called for Scepter, as the “user,” to ensure “that the person directed to operate the aerial platform has been trained and familiarized with the equipment.” But MacAllister, as the “dealer,” assumes the responsibilities of users only when the dealer “directs personnel to operate an aerial platform.” Thus, “Only if MacAllister had directed Arthur in the use of the boom lift would MacAllister have assumed the greater duties imposed on users,” Altice said.

The appellate court similarly rejected a claim of common law negligence against MacAllister and affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the lessor.

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