Defective Supports May Carry Blame for Injuries
CHICAGO (CN) - Mechanics injured after a semi-truck trailer fell on them may have a defective design case over SPX heavy-duty support stands, the 7th Circuit ruled.
Scott Weigle and John Moore had been rebuilding the braking system on the semi-truck trailer as part of their duties for Truckers 24-Hour in Indianapolis on July 31, 2009.
Both mechanics were under the body of the trailer when it somehow moved off the support stands and fell on them.
The support stands used that day were OTC Tools 1779A support stands designed by SPX, consisting of a conical base, an extension tube, and a support pin.
It is undisputed that the mechanics did not insert the support pin through the extension tube, so the weight of the trailer was not distributed to the wide conical base, but rested entirely on the narrow extension tube.
Scott and Weigle, both experienced mechanics, testified that other brands of support stands are designed so that the center column cannot touch the ground even when a pin is not used. They also said that, by industry standard, the lowest position is the safest operating position for support stands.
The operating instructions, safety instructions and decals for the SPX stands nevertheless emphasize the need to use the support pin, to double-check the placement of a support pin and to verify that the load is stable before doing work underneath it.
Based on these findings, a federal judge granted SPX summary judgment on all claims.
A three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit affirmed dismissal of the inadequate warnings claim on Friday, saying SPX was not required to explain the mechanics of the support pin in its instructions.
"What Weigle and Moore really desire is a physics lesson to accompany the support stands," Judge John Tinder wrote for the court. "We have been unable to find any Indiana authority supporting their view (which invariably would lead to claims that the warnings are too technical and confusing)." (Parentheses in original.)
As to the defective design claim, however, the panel said it deserves another shot.
"That the SPX support stands differ from most (if not all) others on the market (in allowing the center column to drop all the way to the ground) tends to show that their design is not contemplated by reasonable persons among those considered expected users," Tinder wrote (parentheses in original). "Additionally, because the SPX stands are inherently unstable when used without the pin, but other available stands are not (because of built-in safeguards), a fact finder could find that the stands are unreasonably dangerous."
The 33-page opinion notes that Larry Betcher, the designer of the SPX stand, admitted it was foreseeable that a user might operate the stand without inserting the pin.
"SPX's view that a manufacturer should not have to design safer products if it provides adequate warnings is inconsistent with the standard of care for product design set forth in §34-20-2-2," Tinder wrote. "A product designer must exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, and it is unreasonable to omit from a product an easily installed and inexpensive safeguard that would prevent potentially fatal accidents and rely simply on the users' ability and willingness to read, comprehend, and follow all instructions and warnings on all occasions."