Employee's injury case sent back for a new trial
The Court of Appeals reversed the Wayne County Circuit Court judge's decision that summarily disposed of an injured worker's claim against a company that leased manufacturing equipment to his employer. The worker was badly hurt when a slitter allegedly malfunctioned. His attorneys claimed that his injury was caused by the breach of a contract obligating the defendant to train employees in the use of the machine and to inspect it for defects and dangerous conditions. The Court of Appeals unanimously agreed.
The trial court had held that the defendant's obligation was not a continuing duty and was fulfilled when Kerry Steel Company occupied the industrial facility and commenced steel-making operations. The Court of Appeals noted that well into production, a Kasle Steel employee continued to train and audit the activities of Kerry employees with respect to this particular machine. Whether the duty was one of contract or was voluntarily assumed, Kasle could be held responsible for its negligent performance.
The Court also held that the machine in question was not a nuisance-in-fact, as its existence under normal operating conditions did not pose a risk to the injured employee, David Townsend. In its decision the Court of Appeals also questioned the lower court's allowance of expert opinion testimony by lay witnesses whom the Defendant had not identified as experts and from whom the court had initially prohibited expert testimony. Lastly, the Court noted that on remand, a letter written by defense counsel to the insurance adjuster would not be barred solely on the grounds of hearsay: the letter strongly implying an intention to manipulate witness testimony was inadvertently mailed to plaintiffs, who sought to admit it to impeach the credibility of defendant's employees' testimony.