Indiana Supreme Court Constricts Use of Comparative Fault in Products Liability Cases

When a plaintiff alleges enhanced injury as a result of a product’s design, the Indiana Supreme Court held in Green v. Ford Motor Co., No. 94S00-1007-CQ-348, that the fact-finder can only apportion fault to the injured party if the fact-finder concludes that the fault of the injured party is “a proximate cause of the harm for which damages are being sought.”

The decision comes from the court’s consideration of a lawsuit filed by Nicholas Green against Ford Motor Co. arising out of an accident in which Green’s car hit a guardrail before flipping down an embankment, leaving Green as a quadriplegic. He argued that his 1999 Ford Explorer’s defective and unreasonably dangerous design caused the injuries, while Ford responded that his own negligence contributed to the car’s leaving the road in the first place.

The court accepted review from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana to resolve the single question of whether “in a crashworthiness case alleging enhanced injuries under the Indiana Products Liability Act, the finder of fact shall apportion fault to the person suffering physical harm when that alleged fault relates to the cause of the underlying accident.” After considering this question, the court answered in the affirmative but restricted the language of the question, requiring the fault to be a proximate cause of the harm for which damages are sought.   There are two collisions in auto accidents, as recognized in cases alleging enhanced injuries as a result of product defectiveness. The first occurs when a plaintiff’s negligence causes him to be caught in an accident. In the context of the case, Green sought relief from the injuries that resulted from the “second collision” of the crash, involving a manufacturer’s failure to exercise reasonable care by designing a defective product. The court’s narrowing of the question means that a plaintiff’s negligence must have contributed to the “second collision” as well as the first in order to be considered by the fact-finder.

About Bose McKinney & Evans LLP

Bose McKinney & Evans LLP is a business law firm, headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, serving both publicly held and privately held businesses, governmental entities and high-growth industries. Our clients include Fortune 100 companies, international manufacturers, national and regional financial institutions, agribusinesses, sports teams, university-incubated start-ups, media, utilities, cities and schools, to name a few. We strive to build strong relationships with our clients as key business advisors, to exceed expectations in the quality of our work, to be knowledgeable about our clients’ businesses and sectors, to be responsive to service needs and to continually seek to improve the delivery of client services. Our ultimate focus is on our clients.
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