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Davis v. Lippert Components Manufacturing, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

March 13, 2018

Matthew Davis, Appellant-Plaintiff,
v.
Lippert Components Manufacturing, Inc., Appellee-Defendant.

         Appeal from the Elkhart Superior Court The Honorable David T. Ready, Senior Judge Trial Court Cause No. 20D01-1605-CT-108

          Attorney for Appellant Jeffrey J. Stesiak Pfeifer, Morgan & Stesiak South Bend, Indiana.

          Attorney for Appellee Robert J. Palmer May Oberfell Lorber Mishawaka, Indiana.

          Mathias, Judge.

         [¶1] Matthew Davis ("Davis") appeals the Elkhart Superior Court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Lippert Components Manufacturing, Inc. ("Lippert"). Specifically, Davis argues the trial court erred as a matter of law when it determined that he did not qualify as a "user" or "consumer" under Indiana's Product Liability Act ("IPLA").

         [¶2] We affirm.

         Facts and Procedure

         [¶3] Evergreen Recreational Vehicles, L.L.C., ("Evergreen") manufactured towable travel trailers in Elkhart, Indiana. Several models of their trailers contained areas of additional space containing flooring and furniture, which an owner could slide out when parked to provide more interior space in the trailer or in a recreational vehicle. These areas are constructed in the form of three-sided boxes opening to the interior of the trailer and are called "slide-outs." Lippert manufactures the Schwintek System In-Wall Slide Out ("Schwintek System") which is a mechanism attached to the slide-out box during the manufacturing process that allows the box to slide in and out of the trailer or recreational vehicle at the direction of its owner.

         [¶4] Davis worked for Evergreen in its "slide-out department" as a "box installer" where his job was to install the box on the trailer. Appellant's App. pp. 91, 93. Davis worked on the outside of the trailer where he would screw down the Schwintek System to the box, glue the top rubber corners of the box to prevent leaks, complete the wire harness underneath the box, hook up the light, and then use an electrical toggle switch to run the box into the trailer. After Davis was finished with his duties, the trailer still had to go through three more manufacturing departments at Evergreen before it was complete and ready for wholesale to dealers.

         [¶5] On June 17, 2014, Davis was attaching the wire harness when the box started to move out. He assumed the box would stop moving, but it did not, and it fell out of the trailer and onto his lower back. Davis suffered significant injuries, including paralysis from the waist down.

         [¶6] Davis filed a complaint on May 24, 2016, in which he alleged, in part, that Lippert was strictly liable for a design defect in the Schwintek System which made it "unreasonably dangerous for its reasonably foreseeable uses." Id. at 20. Lippert moved for summary judgment on June 29, in which it argued that Davis did not qualify as a "user" or "consumer" under the IPLA, and therefore could not state a claim under the Act. On October 10, the trial court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of Lippert.

         [¶7] Davis now appeals.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶8] Davis contends that the trial court erred in granting Lippert's motion for summary judgment. When reviewing a summary judgment, we apply the same standard as the trial court and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Hughley v. State, 15 N.E.3d 1000, 1003 (Ind. 2014). In conducting our review, we consider only those matters that were designated at the summary judgment stage. Haegert v. McMullan, 953 N.E.2d 1223, 1229 (Ind.Ct.App. 2011). Summary judgment is appropriate if the designated evidence shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Hughley, 15 N.E.3d at 1003; Ind. Trial Rule 56(C).

         [¶9] Here, the trial court determined that Davis was not a "user" or "consumer" as those terms are defined in the IPLA, and therefore had no claim under the Act. Who qualifies under this statutory definition is a pure question of law, which we review de novo. Ballard v. Lewis, 8 N.E.3d 190, 193 ...


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