In a recent opinion, the Indiana Supreme Court addressed the amount of time a plaintiff has to bring a product liability lawsuit against a company. The case originated after a plaintiff suffered injuries while working on his employer’s machine. The employer purchased the new device from the defendant in 2003, about 11 years before the plaintiff’s injuries. The plaintiff filed a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer, alleging that the machine was defective. The parties agreed that the ten-year statute of repose barred the plaintiff’s lawsuit, but they recognized a judicial exception to the statute. The appeals court acknowledged the exception, but because of “questionable provenance,” certified the question of whether the statute of repose can be extended by post-sale repair/refurbishment/reconstruction of a product, to the high appellate court.
Under the Indiana Products Liability Act, plaintiffs must bring a claim of this nature within two years after the action accrues or within ten years after the delivery of the product to the purchaser. Nevertheless, if the cause of action comes more than eight years but less than ten years after the original delivery, the action may begin any time within two years after the initial cause of action. The statute provides exceptions for asbestos-related claims. In this case, the court found that the law is unambiguous, and the exception does not apply in the plaintiff’s lawsuit. The plaintiff acknowledged that he suffered his injuries eleven years after his employer acquired the product; however, he asked the court to interpret the statute to include an additional exception.
The plaintiff argued that a further exception exists for products that undergo a significant change, thereby creating a new product and restarting the statute of limitations. Although some courts have addressed this issue, Indiana courts have not applied it as an exception to the statute of repose. The court reasoned that the law requires them to look at the plain meaning of the statute. However, they did address the implications of a “new product” exception. This exception would require the court to identify what properties define a product, and what change is necessary to create a new product. The court ultimately found that because the legislature is silent on the issue, there is no reason to go beyond the plain meaning of the statute. Therefore, they found that his lawsuit was barred due to the statute of repose.