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Stanfield v. Medalist Industries

DECEMBER 24, 1975.

OSSIE STANFIELD, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

MEDALIST INDUSTRIES, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County; the Hon. JOHN S. GHENT, JR., Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE GUILD DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff appeals from an order granting defendant's motion for summary judgment in an action seeking damages on a theory of strict products liability. The principal question presented for review is whether the trial court erred in granting defendant's motion.

Plaintiff, Ossie Stanfield, an employee of General Electric Cabinet Co. (hereinafter G.E.) suffered the loss of three fingers of her left hand while operating a boring and cutting machine for the first time. The machine had been manufactured by the defendant Medalist Industries, Inc. In plaintiff's amended complaint against the defendant manufacturer, plaintiff alleged that the machine in question was defective and unreasonably dangerous in that it lacked a shield or other adequate safety features to prevent the sort of injury plaintiff suffered and no adequate warnings were provided as to its dangerous propensities. The amended complaint further alleged that the defective and unreasonably dangerous condition of the machine proximately caused plaintiff's injuries.

The defendant manufacturer sought indemnification from plaintiff's employer in a third-party complaint wherein defendant alleged that plaintiff's injuries were proximately caused by G.E.'s active fault in failing to adequately instruct or supervise plaintiff in the operation of the machine. G.E. sought to dismiss this third-party action on the ground that a third-party action seeking indemnity on the active-passive theory is not maintainable in a strict liability case. In Stanfield v. Medalist Industries, Inc. (1974), 17 Ill. App.3d 996, 309 N.E.2d 104, this court sustained this contention of G.E. and instructed the trial court to grant G.E.'s motion to dismiss the third-party complaint.

In its motion for summary judgment, defendant relied extensively upon the pretrial deposition of the plaintiff. In the motion, defendant averred that plaintiff was not adequately instructed or supervised in the operation of the machine; that plaintiff was totally unfamiliar with and had never previously operated the machine or the particular setup of the machine; and that plaintiff did not know that the machine contained a sawblade or that the machine was running when she first approached it. Plaintiff filed no objections to defendant's motion and on July 30, 1974, following the filing of the mandate of this court with respect to the third-party action, the trial court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment. After the denial of plaintiff's motion to reconsider the entry of summary judgment in defendant's favor, plaintiff appeals.

On appeal, the parties do not dispute the material facts of this case; rather, the dispute centers upon the conclusions which may be drawn from these facts. Plaintiff contends that the issues of proximate cause and assumption of risk are fundamentally jury issues which cannot be determined against the plaintiff as a matter of law on a motion for summary judgment unless it is clear that no issue of fact remains. The defendant, on the other hand, argues that the undisputed facts in this case support the following four defenses which warrant entry of summary judgment: that the machine was not unreasonably dangerous; that the injury was not foreseeable by the defendant; that the actions of plaintiff's employer, G.E., were the sole proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries; and that there was no defect in the machine in question.

The principles applicable to summary judgment proceedings are well established. Section 57 of the Civil Practice Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 110, par. 57) provides that a summary judgment should be entered if the pleadings, depositions and affidavits on file, if any, "* * * show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment or decree as a matter of law." The purpose of summary judgment proceedings is to determine whether there is any genuine issue of triable fact. (Clausen v. Ed Fanning Chevrolet, Inc. (1972), 8 Ill. App.3d 1053, 291 N.E.2d 202.) The pleadings, depositions, and affidavits, if any, must be construed most strictly against the moving party and most liberally in favor of the opponent. (Ruby v. Wayman (1968), 99 Ill. App.2d 146, 240 N.E.2d 699.) In determining if there is a genuine issue, inferences may be drawn from the facts which are not in dispute. (Peirce v. Conant (1964), 47 Ill. App.2d 294, 198 N.E.2d 555.) However, summary judgment procedure,

"* * * may not be used to impair the right of trial by jury. Its purpose is not to try an issue of fact, as it is only when the undisputed facts are susceptible of but a single inference does the issue become one of law. (Inland Steel Co. v. Industrial Commission, 18 Ill.2d 70, 78 (1959).) Questions which are composed of factors sufficient to cause reasonable men to arrive at different results should never be determined as matters of law. (Ney v. Yellow Cab Co., 2 Ill.2d 74, 84 (1954).) Defendant's right to judgment must be free from doubt." Halloran v. Belt Railway Co. (1960), 25 Ill. App.2d 114, 118, 166 N.E.2d 98, 100.

• 1 The issue on appeal thus becomes, under the undisputed facts of this case, whether reasonable men could arrive at different results as to whether plaintiff's injuries were proximately caused by the unreasonably dangerous condition of the machine in question. If such different results could be reached, then a genuine issue of fact exists which ought not to be determined as a matter of law. In determining this issue, it is necessary to state some of the general rules applicable to a products liability action.

• 2 The elements of proof in a strict liability action were stated by the Illinois Supreme Court in Suvada v. White Motor Co. (1965), 32 Ill.2d 612, 623, 210 N.E.2d 182, 188, as follows:

"The plaintiffs must prove that their injury or damage resulted from a condition of the product, that the condition was an unreasonably dangerous one and that the condition existed at the time it left the manufacturer's control."

The basis of liability in such a case, as we stated in Stanfield v. Medalist Industries, Inc., is the putting into the stream of commerce a defective and dangerous product and the liability is not based upon ordinary negligence but is based primarily upon protecting the public from such products. Whereas the liability in negligence cases is based upon the conduct of a person, the liability in strict liability in tort is based upon the condition of a product. Kossifos v. Louden Machinery Co. (1974), 22 Ill. App.3d 587, 317 N.E.2d 749.

• 3-5 In Dunham v. Vaughan & Bushnell Mfg. Co. (1969), 42 Ill.2d 339, 342, 247 N.E.2d 401, 403, the Supreme Court stated that products are "defective" in the context of products liability law, when they,

"* * * are dangerous because they fail to perform in the manner reasonably to be expected in light of their ...


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