Indiana Appeals Court Finds Compliance With Industry Standards Not Relevant
In a recent decision, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that evidence of a manufacturer’s compliance with industry standards was not relevant in a case alleging negligent design. Terex-Telelect v. Wade, 59 N.E.3d 298 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016).
The plaintiff, Anthony Wade, was injured when he fell from an aerial passenger bucket attached to a truck. Wade alleged that Terex was negligent under the Indiana Product Liability Act in designing the bucket because it was manufactured without an interior step to facilitate egress from the bucket. At trial, Terex presented evidence that it complied with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A92.2 in designing and manufacturing the bucket. Pursuant to the Indiana Product Liability Act, there is a rebuttable presumption that the product that caused the physical harm was not defective if it can be shown that the product complied with applicable codes, regulations, specifications, etc. Over Wade’s objection, the trial court included a regulatory compliance instruction and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Terex. Wade appealed, arguing that the trial court erroneously instructed the jury regarding the rebuttable presumption. The appellate court agreed, reversing the jury verdict and remanding for retrial.
Prior to the retrial, Wade filed a motion in limine with the trial court seeking to exclude evidence concerning the applicability of and Terex’s compliance with ANSI A92.2’s design standards. Wade asserted that evidence of compliance with ANSI A92.2 provided no explanation for the defect he alleged. The trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion and Terex initiated an interlocutory appeal. The appeals court held that compliance with ANSI A92.2 was not relevant and explained its reasoning by quoting an analogy from its opinion in the original appeal:
[W]hile the braking system on an automobile may be state of the art in terms of its ability to stop a car traveling at a designated rate of speed within a designated distance from the time the brakes are applied, such evidence would not be relevant in a products liability case where the braking system caused a fire in the vehicle. Id., at 305 (quoting Wade v. Terex-Telelect, Inc., 966 N.E.2d 186, 193 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012)).
This decision serves as a reminder to defense counsel that when presenting a defense of compliance with industry standards, evidence of compliance with the standard and the relevance of that standard to the alleged defect are equally important. Counsel should consider thinking broadly and asking themselves and their manufacturing clients: Have we considered all possible regulations and standards that may apply to the defect being alleged? Failing to plead compliance with industry standards – or, as in Terex, pleading compliance with standards that may be deemed not relevant – could result in the court striking this critical defense.