By Pamela C. Maloney, J.D.
Negligence claims for defective manufacture, design and warnings against meat grinder manufacturer were dismissed because they could not proceed as separate from or alternative to IPLA claim.
A restaurant employee who was seriously injured while using a meat grinder could not proceed with negligence claims against the manufacturer because those claims were merged into her claim under the Indiana Product Liability Act, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana held, rejecting the employee’s claim that it could survive as an alternate theory of liability (Gunter v. Weston Brands, LLC, June 11, 2020, Pratt, T.).
While using a meat grinder manufactured by Weston Brands, LLC, the restaurant employee’s right hand became caught in the grinding mechanism, which resulted in the amputation of her hand. Alleging that the meat grinder was defective in its design, manufacture, and/or marketing and warnings, and that West on had placed it into the stream of commerce in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to its users or consumers, the restaurant employee filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer setting forth two causes of action: a claim under the Indiana Product Liability Act (ILPA) and a common law negligence claim. Specifically, the employee alleged that the meat grinder was defective because its grinding mechanism and auger were not guarded in a manner that would prevent the user’s hand or arm from touching those components. In addition, because the guard was not permanently attached to the tray, it could be easily removed, lost, and/or never removed from the original packaging such that it would not be used. The employee further alleged that the diameter of the feed chute was excessively large, which allowed a person’s hand to fit into the chute and access the grinding mechanism and auger. Finally, it was alleged that the meat grinder had no emergency shut off accessible to users and consumers. The manufacturer moved to dismiss the negligence count.
Scope of IPLA. It was established case law that the ILPA governs all actions for physical harm brought by a consumer against a manufacturer or seller of a product, regardless of the substantive legal theory. It provides for a single cause of action and, thus, common law claims were no longer recognized in a products liability action. In the case at bar, the restaurant employee had alleged that she was a user or consumer of the meat grinder and that the manufacturer was involved with the manufacturing, distribution, and/or sale of the meat grinder. The complaint outlined the defects in the meat grinder that caused her injury, which was also described in the complaint. Accepting the employee’s allegations as true, the action satisfied all the elements necessary for a claim under the IPLA and, thus, the negligence claim was subsumed by the IPLA claim and could not proceed as a separate count.
The employee contended that her common law negligence claim should be allowed to proceed as an "alternative" to her claim under the IPLA. However, the complaint did not identify the negligence claim as being pled in the alternative. Instead, it was pled as a common law negligence claim that fell within the confines of the IPLA. Furthermore, alternative claims that fell within the scope of the IPLA were subsumed into a single cause of action and must be dismissed, the court explained.
The case is No. 1:20-cv-00794-TWP-DLP.
Attorneys: Jared Adam Harts (Golitko & Daly, P.C.) for Nancy Gunter. Alissa C. Wetzel (Barnes & Thornburg, LLP) and Christopher Edward Trible (McGuire Woods LLP) for Weston Brands, LLC.
Companies: Weston Brands, LLC.
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