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Walker v. The Manitowoc Company, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

October 10, 2018

MATTHEW M. WALKER
v.
THE MANITOWOC COMPANY, INC., ET AL. JIM LEE HANKINS
v.
THE MANITOWOC COMPANY, INC., ET AL.

          APPEAL FROM THE SIXTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF IBERIA, NO. 11-9533 C/W 12-0052 HONORABLE LORI ANN LANDRY, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Franklin Glen Shaw Walter Leger, Jr. Walter Leger, III Leger & Shaw COUNSEL FOR: Plaintiffs/Respondents - Jim Lee Hankins and Matthew M. Walker

          Michael L. Barras Oats & Marino COUNSEL FOR: Plaintiffs/Respondents - Jim Lee Hankins and Matthew M. Walker

          Edward Paul Landry Landry, Watkins, Repaske & Breaux COUNSEL FOR: Defendants/Applicants - Manitowoc Cranes, LLC, Westchester Fire Insurance Co., and The Manitowoc Company, Inc.

          Michael Thomas Pulaski Keith W. McDaniel McCranie, Sistrunk, Anzelmo, Hardy, McDaniel & Welch, LLC COUNSEL FOR: Defendants/Applicants - Manitowoc Cranes, LLC, The Manitowoc Company, Inc., and Westchester Fire Insurance Co.

          Kevin M. Young Prichard Hawkins Young, LLP COUNSEL FOR: Defendants/Applicants - The Manitowoc Company, Inc., Westchester Fire Insurance Co., and Manitowoc Cranes, LLC

          Harry Joseph Philips, Jr. L. Adam Thames Taylor, Porter, Brooks & Phillips L.L.P. COUNSEL FOR: Defendants/Respondents - H&E Equipment Services, Inc. and Travelers Property and Casualty Company of America

          John Hatch Hughes David J. Ayo Allen & Gooch COUNSEL FOR: Intervenor/Respondent - Bayou Welding Works, LLC

          Dan Boudreaux COUNSEL FOR: Intervenor/Respondent - Liberty Mutual Insurance Corporation

          Jake P. Skaggs Cozen And O'Connor Lyondell Bassell Tower COUNSEL FOR: Intervenor/Respondent - Allianz Global Corporate and Specialty Company

          Court composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Phyllis M. Keaty, and Candyce G. Perret, Judges.

          ULYSSES GENE THIBODEAUX CHIEF JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs, Matthew M. Walker and Jim Lee Hankins, filed separate suits seeking damages for personal injuries they sustained as a result of a worksite accident involving the alleged failure of a Manitowoc model 888 crane (crane) to hold the load upon which Plaintiffs stood, causing Plaintiffs to drop to the ground. Through multiple amended petitions, Plaintiffs sued several defendants, including the manufacturer of the crane, the Manitowoc Company, Inc., Manitowoc Cranes, LLC, and their insurer Westchester Fire Insurance Company (collectively Manitowoc).[1] With respect to their claims against Manitowoc, Plaintiffs alleged the crane was unreasonably dangerous because of an inadequate warning and/or defect in design or construction/composition as defined by the Louisiana Products Liability Act (LPLA). Plaintiffs' employer, Bayou Welding Works, LLC (BWW), and its insurer, Allianz Global Corporate and Specialty Company (Allianz) (collectively Intervenors), intervened in the suit, seeking property damages and consequential losses arising from the same accident.[2]

         After the suits were consolidated, the parties filed opposing motions for summary judgment. The trial court denied Manitowoc's motion for summary judgment in which Manitowoc sought to have Plaintiffs'/Intervenors' claims dismissed on the grounds that the crane was not being used in a reasonably anticipated manner when the accident occurred or, alternatively, that Plaintiffs/Intervenors could not prove the existence of a defect that caused their damages. The trial court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs/Intervenors, finding that Manitowoc, as manufacturer of the crane, had breached its non-delegable duty to warn of defects in the crane. The trial court also denied Manitowoc's motion to dismiss and for sanctions due to spoliation of evidence.

         Manitowoc sought supervisory writs from the judgment denying its motion for summary judgment, in docket number CW 16-897, and the judgment denying its motion for dismissal and spoliation sanctions, in docket number CW 16-898. It also appealed the judgment granting Plaintiffs'/Intervenors' motion for partial summary judgment in docket numbers CA 18-221 and CA 18-223. Upon Manitowoc's motion, we consolidated the appeals with its writs.

         In light of the complex factual issues, we find that, on the record before us, this matter is not ripe for summary judgment on any of the claims made by the parties at this time. We further find that the trial court did not abuse its vast discretion in refusing to impose spoliation sanctions. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's judgment granting partial summary judgment on Manitowoc's duty to warn and render judgment denying both writs.

         I.

         ISSUES

         In its writ applications, Manitowoc raises the following issues for review:

(1) Should summary judgment be entered, dismissing Plaintiffs' claims against Manitowoc, because the manner in which Hankins and Walker were using the Manitowoc model 888 crane at the time of the incident - riding a suspended load - is a violation of BWW's safety policy, well-known OSHA standards, and other guidelines, and was a reasonably anticipated use of the crane;
(2) Should summary judgment be entered, dismissing Plaintiffs'/Intervenors' claims against Manitowoc, because the Manitowoc model 888 crane was poorly maintained and overloaded, and this was not a reasonably anticipated use of the crane;
(3) Should summary judgment be entered, dismissing Plaintiffs'/Intervenors' claim that the Manitowoc model 888 crane was unreasonably dangerous in construction or composition under the LPLA, because Plaintiffs/Intervenors failed to demonstrate an unreasonably dangerous condition in construction or composition that existed at the time the subject crane left the custody and control of Manitowoc;
(4) Should summary judgment be entered, dismissing Plaintiffs'/Intervenors' claim that the Manitowoc model 888 crane was unreasonably dangerous due to an inadequate warning under the LPLA, because Plaintiffs/Intervenors have not shown an alternative warning that would have been heeded by BWW and prevented the incident;
(5) Should summary judgment be entered, dismissing Plaintiffs'/Intervenors' claim that the Manitowoc model 888 crane was unreasonably dangerous in design under the LPLA, because Plaintiffs/Intervenors have not shown that there was a feasible alternative design that could have prevented the incident, as required for them to prove a defect in design;
(6) The trial court erred in failing to exclude inadmissible exhibits to Plaintiffs'/Intervenors' Opposition under Louisiana C.C.P. article 966(A)(4); and
(7) Given that Intervenor BWW possessed the drum adapter and specifically agreed to safeguard it for further inspection, should the loss, destruction or intentional refusal to produce this critical evidence, without an adequate explanation, result in the dismissal of certain claims, or at least an evidentiary presumption that the evidence would have been unfavorable to Plaintiffs and Intervenors?

         On appeal, Manitowoc asks this court to consider:

(1) Should summary judgment be denied as to Plaintiffs'/Intervenors' failure to warn claims because genuine issues of material fact exist regarding the cause of the subject incident as the trial court itself recognized in denying Manitowoc's Motion for Summary Judgment;
(2) Should summary judgment be denied as to Plaintiffs'/Intervenors' failure to warn claims because genuine issues of material fact exist regarding whether the Model 888 was being used in a reasonably anticipated manner?
(3) Should summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs'/Intervenors' failure to warn claims be denied because a genuine issue of material fact exists [] as to whether Manitowoc's dissemination of SB90 to its distributors was adequate under the circumstances;
(4) Should summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs'/Intervenors' failure to warn claims be denied because Plaintiffs/Intervenors have not shown an alternative warning that would have been heeded and prevented the accident; and
(5) Did the trial court err in granting summary judgment on Manitowoc's comparative fault defense as related to prior distributors and dealers because issues of fact exist regarding the culpability of those entities for failing to properly maintain the Model 888 and/or for failing to notify the owner of the Model 888 of SB90?

         II.

         FACTS AND ...


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