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April 09, 2017

MSC grants MOAA to determine whether common practice of reaching into a press constitutes a reasonably foreseeable misuse

The MSC granted mini-oral argument in Iliadis v. Dieffenbacher North America, No. 154358 to consider whether failing to follow employer instructions for the use of a press machine in favor of a “common practice” is a misuse of the press machine that is a reasonably foreseeable risk for the manufacturer.

Steven Iliades, a press operator, relied solely on a security “light curtain” which was supposed to turn off a press machine when an object broke the beams of a light curtain around a press.  It had been common practice by his fellow press operators to use the light curtain instead of a security door to maximize efficiency.  Although reaching in to the press while in operation was against training, rules, and safety knowledge, it had become common practice to do so because the light curtains would automatically shut off the press.
 
However, on an unfortunate day for Iliades, the light curtain did not automatically shut off the machine and instead, it began to cycle its pressing operation when he reached in, crushing Iliades inside.  Iliades brought a products liability suit against Dieffenbacher North America Inc., the manufacturer.  Dieffenbacher argued that this was misuse that was not reasonably foreseeable.   The trial court agreed and granted summary disposition in favor of Dieffenbacher.
 
The Court of Appeals reversed, noting that Iliades acted against policy, which would fall under the statutory definition of misuse.  However, there was a question of fact regarding whether Iliades’s actions were “common practice,” thus removing his action from the definition of misuse.  In addition, the Court of Appeals held that it was reasonably foreseeable that press operators would ignore policies and training, and rely solely on light curtains as a safety measure.  The Court, therefore, remanded to the trial court.
 

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