Justices accept certified question on statute of repose exception

The Indiana Supreme Court has agreed to provide clarification on whether the Indiana Products Liability Act’s statute of repose may apply to a judicially created exception to the rule.

Justices on Thursday accepted a certified question from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana in Bradley A. Estabrook v. Mazak Corp., 19S-CQ-590. In that case, Bradley Estabrook was seriously injured in a workplace accident when his foot was nearly sheared off by unmanned, computer-controlled machinery installed by Mazak Corporation.

At issue are questions concerning mechanical work and repair performed on the machinery between 2011 and 2014 and the Indiana Products Liability Act’s statute of repose, which provides that a product liability action must be commenced within two years after the cause of action accrues or within 10 years after the delivery of the product to the initial user or consumer.

“However, if the cause of action accrues at least eight (8) years but less than ten (10) years after that initial delivery, the action may be commenced at any time within two (2) years after the cause of action accrues,” the statute reads.

Both parties agreed that the strict application of the statute of repose to the delivery date of the machinery was in July 2003, which would bar Easterbrook’s cause of action. However, both also identified a judicially created exception to the statute of repose whereby the rebuilding or reconditioning of the product could restart the statutory clock.

“The exception finds no philosophical grounding in any Indiana decisions; those Indiana decisions that recognize the exception do so in a perfunctory fashion, with little to no actual analysis, and often in discussions that have no bearing on the outcome of the case,” Judge Holly Brady wrote for the district court. http://media.ibj.com/Lawyer/websites/opinions/index.php?pdf=2019/november/repose.pdf “None of those decisions come from the Indiana Supreme Court. This Court is left, then, to wonder whether the exception would be recognized by the Indiana Supreme Court and, if so, what the contours of the exception would be.”

The district court’s question posed for the Supreme Court’s review therefore is: “Can the statute of repose codified in Ind. Code § 34-20-3-1(b) be extended by post-sale repair/refurbishment/reconstruction of the product and, if so, what is the appropriate test to be used to determine whether the seller has done sufficient work to trigger the extension?”

In its Thursday order https://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-other-2019-19S-CQ-590.pdf accepting certification, the Supreme Court instructed counsel for both sides to file their briefs and appendices by Dec. 16, with extensions granted only in “truly extraordinary circumstances.”

Oral argument is scheduled for the case on Jan. 20, 2020.

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