Eighth Circuit Clarifies Difference between a Manufacturing and Design Defect
Michael F. Bahler | Bloomberg Law
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld a directed verdict for a bulldozer manufacturer in a suit concerning a workplace accident, ruling that the plaintiff mischaracterized alleged flaws in the product as manufacturing defects.
In March 2007, Thomas Lowell Linden, Jr., was operating a bulldozer manufactured by CNH America to level a drainage pond when the machine started to roll over. His seatbelt became unlatched, and he was thrown from the seat. The bulldozer landed on Linden’s legs, and he was severely injured. In January 2009, Linden sued CNH in Iowa federal court, asserting both manufacturing and design defect claims. The manufacturing defect claims were premised on the allegations that the seatbelt at issue had insufficient Ultra Violet (UV) resistant material to protect it from UV wear and that the seatbelt’s ejector holder did not fit tightly into the buckle.
At trial, after Linden concluded his case in chief, the district court granted CNH’s motion for a directed verdict on the manufacturing defect claims. It stated that there was no evidence in the record to suggest that there was a manufacturing deviation and that Linden was actually “saying [that the seat belt subcontractor] didn’t do enough. That’s a design question. That’s not an error in manufacturing.” After the jury returned a verdict for CNH on the remaining claims, Linden appealed the grant of the directed verdict.
The Eighth Circuit observed that under governing Iowa law a manufacturing defect claim requires proof that the product was structurally flawed, damaged, or improperly assembled. Quoting the Eleventh Circuit, it noted that the “distinction is between an unintended configuration [a manufacturing defect], and an intended configuration that may produce unintended and unwanted results [a design defect].” (Internal quotation omitted.) It wrote that Linden’s alleged manufacturing flaws were actually alleged design flaws, pointing out that he failed to submit evidence that the bulldozer deviated from its intended design or failed to meet its design specifications. Accordingly, it affirmed the directed verdict.
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