Dan Strong and Matt Little Obtain Favorable Opinion From the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in a Louisiana Products Liability Case Involving a North Carolina Insured
In a hard-fought victory for their client, Dan Strong and Matt Little recently obtained a favorable ruling from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in a case involving local truss equipment manufacturer Rand Manufacturing, Inc. (“Rand”). In a per curiam opinion, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s ruling that Plaintiff failed to establish a threshold requirement of the Louisiana Products Liability Act (“LPLA”).
Jackson v. Rand Manufacturing, Inc.
In a suit filed in December 2019, Plaintiff alleged that a final roller manufactured by Rand was unreasonably dangerous. While attempting to manually feed a truss into the twin twenty-four-inch steel rollers which press nailing plates into the roof truss, Plaintiff was pinned to the face of the machine by the truss. When Plaintiff tried to climb out of the way, his right leg was fed into the machine up to his thigh before another employee was able to hit the emergency stop button. The machine had to be taken apart to extricate Plaintiff and he ultimately lost his leg at the hip. Plaintiff argued that the area in front of the machine should have been chained off or guarded by a light barrier that would automatically shut off the machine if a user approached the area in front of the machine.
Plaintiff filed an action against Rand in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana for violation of the LPLA, La. Stat. Ann. § 9:2800.51, et seq. Dan Strong and Matt Little of Teague Campbell were retained to represent Rand after the case was transferred to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Through the discovery process, Rand established that the final roller system, which included the feed rollers, was an automatic process that, when functioning as intended, required no human interaction. Rand’s final roller manual clearly delineated the area in front of the machine as a “Restricted Zone” and warned that no users were to enter the area “unless all air and electric is disconnected.” Further, Rand’s manual warned that “under no circumstances should the equipment be operated with damaged or non-manufacturer supplied parts.”
During his deposition, Plaintiff stated that the feed rollers that automatically moved trusses to and through the final roller had been malfunctioning, which required him to manually feed trusses into the machine. Plaintiff testified that he was aware of the danger of being in the restricted area stating, “from that day to this day I still don’t know why I was in there.”
Before a court considers whether the design of a product is unreasonably dangerous as defined by the LPLA, a party must prove that their damages arose from a use that was reasonably anticipated by the manufacturer. When determining whether a use was reasonably anticipated, courts have previously considered factors such as:
- whether the injured party used the product in a manner that was obviously dangerous;
- what the user was instructed to do and warned not to do with respect to the use of the product;
- whether the use of the product was expressly warned against in the product’s labeling (or operations manual) and the language of that warning; and
- the sophistication/experience of the user‐purchaser.
Broussard v. Procter & Gamble Co., 463 F. Supp. 2d 596, 606 (W.D. La. 2006).
United States District Judge Earl Britt awarded summary judgment to Rand on the issue of reasonably anticipated use. Based upon the warnings in Rand’s manual, the fact that the machine was intended for automatic use and Plaintiff’s admission that he was engaged in a dangerous act, Judge Britt found that Rand could not have reasonably anticipated Plaintiff’s actions.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Britt’s grant of summary judgment. In a per curium opinion, the Court found that Plaintiff “entered an area where he easily could become trapped between the wooden truss and the final roller” and that Plaintiff knew “that he was placing himself in a dangerous situation when he manually fed the trusses into the roller.” The Court, therefore, ruled that “we agree with the district court’s conclusion that, on balance, Rand could not have reasonably anticipated that a user would operate the final roller in the manner that [Plaintiff] did.”
Congratulations to Dan and Matt on this excellent result!