The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that adequate instructions and warnings on the use of a motor-vehicle support stand do not amount to a complete defense to a defective-design claim under Indiana law. Weigle v. SPX Corp., Moore v. SPX Corp., Nos. 12-3024, -3025 (7th Cir., decided September 6, 2013).
The plaintiffs, experienced truck mechanics, had allegedly been injured when the defendant’s support stand became unstable as they worked underneath a semi-truck trailer supported by two of the stands. Plaintiff Scott Weigle did not read the safety instructions for use of the support stand and did not use a locking pin that was part of the device. Plaintiff John Moore did not check to see that the locking pin was in place before joining Weigle beneath the truck. A federal district court grantedthe manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the written and pictorial instructions warning users to insert a locking pin in the stand before using it as support were adequate and thus that the manufacturer could not be held liable for a design defect.
The Seventh Circuit agreed that the warning was adequate and affirmed the motion for summary judgment on this claim. The court reversed as to design defect, however, finding that a reasonable fact finder could conclude, on the basis of the plaintiffs’ designated evidence, that the defendant’s support stands were in an unreasonably dangerous defective condition. The evidence showed that no other support stand in the industry was unstable when used without a locking pin in the lowest extended position, which was how Weigle had used the defendant’s stand. The evidence also showed that, in the opinion of some experts, the stand’s design did not comport with an industry standard and that neither the designer nor the company considered alternative designs, conducted field studies to determine whether the support stand was being used without the pin or tested the warnings’ effectiveness. The designer himself "admitted that it was foreseeable that a user might operate the support stand without the pin, which is why the instruction that the pin should always be used was included." The plaintiffs’ expert indicated that he was able to fix the alleged defect for about $10.
The court determined that while the failure to read and heed the adequate warnings could be taken into account in allocating fault, the current version of Indiana’s product liability law "furnishes no basis for SPX’s adequate-warnings defense, and that defense is inconsistent with the standard of care required of product designers." The court remanded the case for further proceedings.