Huie partners Joe Duncan and Phil Collins were successful in their appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court in DISA Industries, Inc. v. Gregory Bell. In the AEMLD and negligence case, a $500k verdict was overturned.
In 2000, Union Foundry entered into a contract with DISA’s predecessor for the purchase and installation of a new molding system. The contract with Union Foundry contained a detailed “Scope of Supply,” which limited DISA’s design, engineering and supply responsibilities to the molding system. In conjunction with the installation of the new system, Union Foundry moved and refurbished one of its existing furnaces to provide molten material to the line. This refurbishment included the design and fabrication of a work platform situated on top of the furnace, which included an open trough which allowed the molten material to travel from the furnace to the pouring spout. After DISA provided Union Foundry with its initial “arrangement drawings”, Union Foundry created more detailed drawings that included a modified extension of the trough.
Bell suffered injury to his foot when he stepped over the trough and his foot dipped into molten metal. He underwent four surgeries, including the amputation of the front half of his foot, and remained in the hospital for 30 days. On September 25, 2012, Bell sued DISA, Union Foundry Company, Duca Manufacturing and Consulting, Inc., and other defendants. The case against DISA ultimately went to trial, resulting in a verdict of $500,000 in compensatory damages to Bell. DISA filed motions for judgment as a matter of law and for remittitur, both of which were denied by the trial court. DISA appealed.
On appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court first sought to resolve whether DISA was a “manufacturer” for the purposes of the AEMLD. Bell argued that an engineering firm can be held liable under the AEMLD for a drawing and layout of the finished product, and for supplying components of the finished product. However, Bell’s own expert reviewed Union Foundry’s drawings created after DISA’s initial general arrangement drawings were issued and determined that DISA was not the manufacturer of the modified trough. Bell also argued that DISA was liable for the alleged defective product because it integrated the product into the foundry line. The Court rejected this argument as well, holding that DISA did not design, manufacture, or manage the operation of the modified trough.
The Court proceeded to determine whether the Bells presented sufficient evidence of negligence to withstand DISA’s motion for judgment as a matter of law. Bell argued that DISA’s supervisory role obligated it to inform Union Foundry of the need for guardrails around the modified trough and pour spout. The Court rejected the Bells’ argument that DISA’s contract obligated it to ensure the railings were installed around the trough or to warn Union Foundry that railings were necessary. The Court held that there was no evidence that DISA’s contractual duties extended beyond the molding line and to the furnace system. Thus, the Court reversed and rendered judgment in favor of DISA.
The full opinion from the Alabama Supreme Court is available here.