When Is a Product Sold?

I am honored to have the Cinco de Mayo post, and, in honor of this holiday, please ponder with me the age-old question, when does a bucket truck become a bucket truck? In Campbell v. Altec Industries, Inc., No. 09-13472, 2010 WL 1740691 (11th Cir. May 3, 2010) [PDF], the Eleventh Circuit certified a question to the Georgia Supreme Court to decide an statute of repose issue. Campbell worked for Georgia Power Company and was injured when a cylinder on a bucket truck, owned by Georgia Power, failed. Campbell sued the manufacturer of the truck (“Altec”) and the manufacturer of the defective lift cylinder (“THI”). The statute of repose limits the timing of a products liability action to “ten years from the date of the first sale for use or consumption of the personal property causing or otherwise bringing about the injury.” The certified question asks whether the statute of repose begins to run when

(1) a component part causing an injury is assembled or tested, (2) a finished product, which includes an injuring component part, is assembled, or, (3) a finished product, which includes an injuring component part, is delivered to its initial purchaser?

Id. The district court ruled that the statute of repose began to run on January 14, 1998, when Altec placed the completed lift assembly on a test chassis and operated it. “The final assembly of the lift cylinder and placement onto the bucket truck, however, did not occur until sometime in March 1998. The initial delivery to the ultimate purchaser, Georgia Power Company, then occurred in April 1998.” Id. The district court’s order granting the defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment shed’s more light on the facts, noting that Georgia Power initially ordered the bucket truck in March 1997 from Altec, and Altec purchased the lower lift boom cylinder in October 1997. The district court essentially reasoned that Altec purchased the cylinder for production of the truck ordered by Georgia Power, and the completion of the lift assembly on January 14, 1998, which could operate independently of the truck itself, was the moment triggering the statute of repose.

Thus, the relevant inquiry is not when the bucket truck ultimately entered the stream of commerce or whether it was operating as it was intended but rather the movement and function of the lift.

Order, Campbell v. Altec Indus., Inc., No. 08-CV-0810 (N.D. Ga. Feb. 19, 2009) [DE #56]. As shown above, the dates matter, because if the statute of repose was triggered by the assembly of the final bucket truck or its delivery, then Campbell’s suit is timely.

It will be interesting to see what Georgia does with this case. The case will impact vehicles that do something in addition to being vehicles (fire trucks with ladders) in addition to finished products made from components that can function independently of the finished product. I like the defendant-friendly ruling, but I don’t know if it will hold up in a different factual scenario, e.g., firefighter deaths from a defective ladder assembly.

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