INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court has scuttled part of a lawsuit filed by a LaPorte County man who was seriously injured while using a power tool by finding that the man's misuse of the tool absolved its manufacturer from liability.
According to court records, Paul Johnson was using a mini air die grinder in 2012 to help a friend install a larger headlight in the friend's truck when the cut-off disc Johnson had attached to the grinder broke off, struck him in the cheek and eye, and eventually caused him to lose his left eye.
Records show Johnson was not wearing safety glasses as directed by the grinder manufacturer, did not use a safety guard with the cut-off disc as advised by the manufacturer and used a disc that was incompatible with the known speed of the grinder.
Nevertheless, Johnson sued the manufacturer, Campbell Hausfeld, under the Indiana Products Liability Act, alleging that his injuries were caused by a defective grinder design and a failure to warn of dangers while using the product.
In a first of its kind ruling, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that proven misuse of a product is a complete defense to a liability claim against a manufacturer.
Previously, the Indiana Court of Appeals only permitted misuse to be employed in determining comparative fault.
Justice Steven David, writing for the high court, said there's no indication the Legislature intended to limit misuse as a liability defense.
He said in cases such as this, where the manufacturer can show misuse was the cause of the harm and the misuse could not reasonably be expected by the manufacturer, then a liability claim against the manufacturer is barred under the statute.
Specifically, David noted that Johnson would not have been injured if he followed the manufacturer's instructions about using a guard with a cut-off disc, any potential injuries would have been lessened if Johnson was wearing the recommended safety glasses and his use of an incompatible disc added to his overall misuse of the grinder.
The court found that while the manufacturer might assume that a grinder user would not put on proper eyewear, or fail to attach a safety guard with an incompatible disc, "it was not reasonably expected for a user to disregard the safety instructions in all three of these ways."
"(Johnson's) multiple failures to follow the grinder's instructions were the cause of his injuries and taken together, could not be reasonably expected by a seller," David said.
Johnson's additional claim that the grinder was defective in its design because it did not include appropriate warnings and safety devices when it was sold still is pending in Porter Superior Court.