Appeal from Morgan Circuit Court. (CV-90-267). Bobby R. Aderholt, TRIAL JUDGE.
Released for Publication June 27, 1995.
Almon, Shores, Houston, Ingram, and Butts, JJ., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Almon
The plaintiffs, Pansi and James Graham, appeal from a summary judgment for the defendant, Sprout-Waldron and Company, in their action for damages based on injuries sustained by Mrs. Graham. The plaintiffs allege that the injuries were caused by Sprout-Waldron's design and construction of a residue bin for corn by-products; they allege that the residue bin was defective because of its design and construction. The issues are whether the Grahams provided substantial evidence that the bins were unreasonably dangerous, for purposes of the Grahams' claim under the Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine (the "AEMLD") and whether Sprout-Waldron was negligent in failing to install devices that the Grahams allege would have prevented Mrs. Graham's injuries.
Mrs. Graham was injured on November 17, 1988, at her place of employment, a plant operated by American Fructose Company of Decatur, Alabama. American Fructose manufactures fructose sugar products from corn. Several by-products of the refining process are sold to various companies to be used in the manufacture of other products. These by-products are stored in bins within the residue storage building at American Fructose until they can be loaded for transport on either trucks or rail cars. Mrs. Graham worked as a material handler; her job involved loading rail cars or trucks with the by-products from the bins in the residue building. In addition, at the end of their daily shifts material handlers check the storage bins to make sure that they are empty. The material handlers climb ladders and beat on the sides of the bins with hammers, noting whether the beating produces a "hollow" sound or a "full" sound. When a bin becomes clogged, the material handlers also remove the clog by beating on the sides of the bin with a hammer. Neither catwalks nor scaffolding was provided for material handlers to stand on while beating on the bins.
On the day of the accident, Mrs. Graham was checking the storage bins in the residue storage building to make sure that the bins were empty at the end of her shift. Mrs. Graham placed a wooden ladder beside the bin and adjusted the ladder by locking the supports into position before ascending the ladder. Mrs. Graham climbed to the second step from the top and began beating on the side of the bin with a hammer. It is unclear whether the ladder collapsed, whether Mrs. Graham fell, or whether something else happened to cause her accident, but her face struck the side of the bin and she landed on the floor on her knees.
American Fructose had contracted with Sprout-Waldron for Sprout-Waldron to construct the residue storage building at the Decatur plant in 1975. Sprout-Waldron was to provide a conveying system for the residue storage building as a means of getting materials there for storage and as a means of unloading the stored materials into trucks or rail cars. When the facility was constructed, it was common knowledge in the industry that the by-products involved had a propensity to stick to the bins or to "bridge," that is, to interlock, and not flow through the bins. A possible alternative to banging on the bins with hammers to dislodge residue and to clear bridging was installing mechanical vibrators. Vibrators were readily available when the residue storage building was constructed.
The first issue is whether the summary judgment for Sprout-Waldron was proper as to the claim that the bins designed and constructed by Sprout-Waldron at the American Fructose facility were defective or unreasonably dangerous within the meaning of the AEMLD. The AEMLD imposes liability upon Sprout-Waldron if the Grahams establish that the bin involved was defective or unreasonably dangerous and that the defect or dangerousness proximately caused Mrs. Graham's injuries. Specifically, the companion cases of Casrell v. Altec Industries, Inc., 335 So. 2d 128 (Ala. 1976), and Atkins v. American Motors Corp., 335 So. 2d 134 (Ala. 1976), require that, to establish liability under the AEMLD, a plaintiff must show:
"(1) he suffered injury or damages to himself or his property by one who sells a product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the plaintiff as the ultimate user or consumer, if
"(a) the seller engaged in the business of selling such a product, and
"(b) it is expected to and does reach the user or consumer without substantial change in the condition in which it is sold."
Casrell, 335 So. 2d at 132-33. The defendant has not disputed the plaintiffs' contention that the residue storage bin at issue in this case is a "product" within the meaning of the AEMLD. See Wells v. Clowers Constr. Co., 476 So. 2d 105 (Ala. 1985).
The manufacturer of a product is not required to produce the safest possible product, but only to produce a product that is reasonably safe when put to its intended use. Casrell, (supra) ; Atkins, (supra) ; Yarbrough v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 628 So. 2d 478 (Ala. 1993). Whether a product is defective or unreasonably dangerous depends upon whether the product meets the reasonable expectations of the ultimate consumer, Casrell, 335 So. 2d at 133 (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A cmt. g and cmt. i (1965)); Beech v. Outboard Marine Corp., 584 So. 2d 447 (Ala. 1991); Deere & Co. v. Grose, 586 So. 2d 196 (Ala. 1991); Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Haven Hills Farm, Inc., 395 So. 2d 991 (Ala. 1981); see Ex parte Morrison's Cafeteria of Montgomery, Inc., 431 So. 2d 975 (Ala. 1983). At least in the present context, where a person is injured by a product purchased by and for the business of the injured person's employer, this ...