STEVEN T. ILIADES and JANE ILIADES, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
DIEFFENBACHER NORTH AMERICA INC., Defendant-Appellant.
on application for leave to appeal November 7, 2017.
Justices: Brian K. Zahra, Bridget M. McCormack, David F.
Viviano, Richard H. Bernstein, Kurtis T. Wilder, Elizabeth T.
Clement, Stephen J. Markman Chief Justice.
Iliades (plaintiff) and Jane Iliades brought a
products-liability action in the Oakland Circuit Court
against Dieffenbacher North America Inc., alleging
negligence, gross negligence, and breach of warranty after
plaintiff was injured by a rubber molding press manufactured
by defendant. The press was equipped with a presence-sensing
device called a "light curtain" that stops the
press when beams of light in front of the press opening are
interrupted. Once the light curtain was no longer
interrupted, the press would resume its cycle automatically.
Plaintiff was injured when he attempted to retrieve parts
that had fallen to the floor inside the press by reaching
behind the light curtain without first placing the press into
manual mode. Because of plaintiff's position behind the
light curtain, the light curtain was not interrupted, the
press resumed its automatic operation, and plaintiff was
trapped between the two plates of the press. The court,
Martha D. Anderson, J., granted summary disposition to
defendant, ruling that plaintiff had misused the press given
the evidence that he had been trained not to reach into the
press while it was in automatic mode, knew how to place the
press into manual mode, knew that the light curtain was not
meant to be used as an emergency stop switch, and knew that
the press would automatically begin its cycle if the light
curtain was no longer interrupted. The court further ruled
that plaintiff's misuse was not reasonably foreseeable
because plaintiff had not presented any evidence that
defendant could have foreseen that a trained press operator
would crawl beyond a light curtain and partially inside a
press to retrieve a part without first disengaging the press.
The Court of Appeals, Ronayne Krause, P.J., and Stephens, J.
(Jansen, J., dissenting), reversed and remanded in an
unpublished per curiam opinion issued July 19, 2016 (Docket
No. 324726), holding that, regardless of whether plaintiff
had misused the press, defendant could be held liable because
plaintiff's conduct was reasonably foreseeable. Defendant
applied for leave to appeal in the Supreme Court, which
ordered and heard oral argument on whether to grant the
application or take other peremptory action. 500 Mich. 965
unanimous opinion by Justice Zahra, the Supreme Court, in
lieu of granting leave to appeal, held:
would be liable under MCL 600.2947(2) for injuries sustained
by plaintiff if plaintiff's conduct constituted misuse of
the press under MCL 600.2945(e) and that misuse was
reasonably foreseeable. Whether the misuse was reasonably
foreseeable depends on whether defendant knew or should have
known of the misuse, not on whether plaintiff was grossly
negligent in operating the press. Because the majority of the
Court of Appeals did not decide whether and how plaintiff
misused the press, and because it did not apply the
common-law meaning of reasonable foreseeability, the Court of
Appeals judgment was reversed and the case was remanded to
that Court to reconsider the trial court's grant of
summary disposition in favor of defendant under the standards
articulated in this opinion.
600.2947(2) provides that a manufacturer or seller is not
liable in a products-liability action for harm caused by
misuse of a product unless the misuse was reasonably
foreseeable. This provision further states that whether there
was misuse and whether that misuse was reasonably foreseeable
are both legal issues to be resolved by the court. Thus, the
plain language of MCL 600.2947(2) clearly sets forth a
two-part test for manufacturer liability pertaining to
reasonably foreseeable product misuse: in order for a
manufacturer to be liable for the misuse of its product, a
court must first decide whether there was misuse of the
product, and, if so, the court must then decide whether the
particular misuse was reasonably foreseeable by the
600.2945(e) defines "misuse" as "use of a
product in a materially different manner than the
product's intended use." Under this provision,
"misuse" includes (1) uses inconsistent with the
specifications and standards applicable to the product, (2)
uses contrary to a warning or instruction provided by the
manufacturer, seller, or another person possessing knowledge
or training regarding the use or maintenance of the product,
and (3) uses other than those for which the product would be
considered suitable by a reasonably prudent person in the
same or similar circumstances.
phrase "reasonably foreseeable" is not defined
under the statute, but the Legislature is presumed to have
adopted the common-law definition of that phrase when it
enacted MCL 600.2947(2). Under Michigan common law,
foreseeability depends on whether a reasonable person could
anticipate that a given event might occur under certain
conditions. When dealing with the foreseeability of a
product's misuse, the crucial inquiry is whether, at the
time the product was manufactured, the manufacturer was
aware, or should have been aware, of that misuse. Whether a
manufacturer should have known of a particular misuse may
depend on whether that misuse was a common practice, or
whether foreseeability was inherent in the product.
Court of Appeals majority erred by failing to squarely
address whether plaintiff's conduct constituted misuse of
the press under MCL 600.2945(e), which affected its
reasonable-foreseeability analysis. For instance, the
majority improperly framed the issue as whether it was
reasonably foreseeable that press operators at
plaintiff's place of employment would rely on the light
curtains as exclusive safety devices. This overly broad
account of misuse is inconsistent with the wording of MCL
600.2947(2), which specifically asks whether "the
misuse" of the product was reasonably foreseeable. In
other words, the question for purposes of foreseeability is
whether defendant knew or should have known of
plaintiff's particular misuse. Without deciding whether
and how plaintiff had misused the press, the majority could
not properly assess whether that misuse was reasonably
Court of Appeals erred by importing the standard applicable
to criminal gross negligence into its interpretation of MCL
600.2947(2). Had the Legislature intended to use this
criminal standard for reasonable foreseeability in civil
products-liability cases, as opposed to the common-law
definition, the Legislature would have done so. Because the
Legislature has not plainly shown a contrary intent, the
common-law meaning of "reasonably foreseeable" must
apply for purposes of MCL 600.2947(2).
of Appeals judgment reversed; case remanded to the Court of
Appeals for further proceedings.
Clement took no part in the decision of this case.
THE ENTIRE BENCH (except Clement, J.)
products-liability action presents a question of first
impression in regard to the proper interpretation of MCL
600.2947(2). That provision provides that a
manufacturer is not liable for harm caused by the misuse of a
product unless that misuse was reasonably foreseeable.
case, plaintiff Steven Iliades sustained serious injuries
after he reached inside a 500-ton press machine to retrieve
molded rubber parts from the floor and became trapped when
the press started its automatic cycle. Iliades places
fault with defendant Dieffenbacher North America Inc., the
manufacturer of the press. If Iliades's conduct
constituted misuse of the press, however, Dieffenbacher would
only be liable if that particular misuse was reasonably
foreseeable by Dieffenbacher.
unpublished, split decision, the Court of Appeals concluded
that, regardless of whether Iliades misused the press,
Dieffenbacher can be held liable for the harm sustained by
Iliades because his conduct was reasonably foreseeable under
a criminal gross-negligence standard. The Court of Appeals
erred by applying that standard in this context.
Legislature set forth a clear two-part test in MCL
600.2947(2) for manufacturer liability arising from product
misuse. First, a court must decide whether there was misuse
of the product. Second, if there was misuse, a court must
decide whether that particular misuse was reasonably
foreseeable by the manufacturer. Although the Legislature
defined "misuse" in MCL 600.2945(e), it did not
provide a definition for "reasonably foreseeable."
Nevertheless, under longstanding principles of statutory
construction, the phrase "reasonably foreseeable"
must be construed in accordance with its common-law meaning.
And under Michigan common law, foreseeability depends on
whether a reasonable person could anticipate that a given
event might occur under certain conditions. When dealing with
the foreseeability of a product's misuse in particular,
the crucial inquiry is whether, at the time the product was
manufactured, the manufacturer was aware, or should have been
aware, of that misuse.
the majority of the Court of Appeals did not decide whether
and how Iliades misused the press, and because it improperly
used a criminal gross-negligence standard to determine
whether Iliades's misuse was reasonably foreseeable
instead of the common-law meaning of that phrase, we reverse
the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand this case to
that Court to reconsider whether the trial court's grant
of summary disposition in favor of Dieffenbacher was proper
under the standards articulated in this opinion.
FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
Products Company supplies molded rubber parts for the
automotive industry. As of June 10, 2011, Iliades had more
than a year of experience working on presses at Flexible
Products. Although he usually worked on Press Number 1, that
press was temporarily inoperable that day, so Iliades was
operating Press Number 25, a 500-ton vertical rubber molding
press machine manufactured by Dieffenbacher. The press
creates injection-molded rubber parts by pressing together
two large plates called "platens, " which hold
interchangeable molds, and then injecting rubber into the
molds. Each ...