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A Better Partnership
December 23, 2009

COA Opinion: Veteran homebuilder does not qualify as "sophisticated user" of pre-cast foundation walls under products-liability statute

On December 22, 2009, the Court of Appeals' approved for publication its previously unpublished opinion in Heaton v. Pristine Home Builders, No. 285805.' In this case, the plaintiffs alleged damages arising out of the shifting foundation of their home.' ' The' key issue in this appeal was' plaintiffs' claim against the manufacturer of the pre-cast concrete foundation walls which the contractor installed in the construction of the home.' ' ' The manufacturer defended this products-liability claim on the basis that' the contractor that installed the foundation walls was a "sophisticated user" under the relevant statute, and argues that, as a matter of statutory law, it is not liable for failure to warn regarding the use of its product where that product is provided for use by a sophisticated user.' MCL '' 600.2947(4).' The Court of Appeals cited the statutory definition of a "sophisticated user" as one who "by virtue of training, experience [or] a profession . . . is or is generally expected to be knowledgeable about a product's properties, including a potential hazard or adverse effect."' MCL '' 600.2945(j).' The majority concluded that, because the contractor in this case had only built 12 houses in his career, had never used this type of foundation before, and relied on a manufacturer's guideline booklet, he did not qualify as a sophisticated user, and summary judgment pursuant to that defense was not appropriate.' Judge Murray, however, filed a dissent' where he found that because the contractor had been a professional homebuilder exclusively for 12 years, he did qualify as a sophisticated user and the manufacturer was entitled to judgment on plaintiff's failure to warn claim.

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