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Prentis v. Yale Mfg. Co.

Supreme Court of Michigan

March 6, 1984, Argued ; December 28, 1984, Decided ; February 11, 1985, Released

Docket No. 69581


 [*674]   [**177]  This products liability action arose out of injuries sustained in an accident involving the operation of a hand-operated forklift manufactured by defendant. The procedural events leading up to this appeal include two trials 1 and two reversals and remands for new trials by the Court of Appeals. 2  [*675]  Plaintiffs John Prentis and his wife, Helen, brought suit alleging both negligence and breach of implied warranty,  [***2]  predicating defendant manufacturer's liability  [**178]  upon the alleged defective design of the forklift. Although the trial judge included both negligence and breach of warranty in his statement of plaintiffs' theory of the case to the jury, he refused to give plaintiffs' requested instructions on breach of implied warranty. 3 A judgment for the defendant, upon a jury verdict of no cause of action, was reversed by the Court of Appeals, which held that the trial court's failure to charge the jury as requested was reversible error, mandating a new trial. Prentis v Yale Mfg Co, 116 Mich App 466; 323 NW2d 444 (1982).

 [***3]  We granted leave to appeal and limited our inquiry to the following issue: whether the trial judge's refusal to instruct the jury on breach of warranty was reversible error in this products liability action against a manufacturer for an alleged defect in the design of a product, where the jury was properly instructed on the theory of negligent design.


The facts of this case are not seriously in dispute.  [*676]  In April of 1970, plaintiff John Prentis, who was employed as foreman of the parts department at an automobile dealership, sustained a hip injury in an accident involving the use of a forklift manufactured by defendant Yale Manufacturing Company and sold to plaintiff's employer in 1952. The forklift was a stand-up or walking type, termed by defendant a "walkie hi-lo" model, rather than a riding or sit down variety. It was operated by lifting its handle up, much like the handle of a wagon. The forklift was estimated by plaintiff to weigh about two thousand pounds and was powered by a large battery, which had to be recharged every night. The machine was equipped with a hand controlled "dead-man" switch which normally prevented it from moving if the operator [***4]  let go of the handle or controls.

Mr. Prentis, who was sixty-three years old at the time of the accident, had been working at the automobile dealership for two years prior to his injury, and testified that he had occasionally operated the forklift during that period, although he had never been formally instructed as to its operation by his employer. He testified that he was aware of and had previously experienced problems with the machine. After use for five or six hours, the battery charge would run down and the machine would operate erratically. When the battery was low, Mr. Prentis said he would play the handle back and forth to get the machine to start and when he did this the machine was subject to power surges which he said could throw a person off balance if care was not taken. He testified that prior to his accident, the machine had broken through the garage door of the dealership five or six times due to such power surges.

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421 Mich. 670 *; 365 N.W.2d 176 **; 1984 Mich. LEXIS 1330 ***; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P10,434

JOHN PRENTIS and HELEN PRENTIS, his wife, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. YALE MANUFACTURING COMPANY, Defendant-Appellant

Prior History:  [***1]   116 Mich App 466; 323 NW2d 444 (1982).

Disposition: Reversed.


manufacturer, design defect, product liability, cases, machine, implied warranty, forklift, reasonable care, risk-utility, products, courts, fault, instructions, strict liability, plaintiffs', Appeals, manufacturer's conduct, defective product, injuries, safe, manufacturing defect, opinion of the court, alleged defect, foreseeable, designing, warranty, confuse, seller, risks, breach of implied warranty

Torts, Products Liability, Theories of Liability, Strict Liability, Breach of Warranty, Negligence, Civil Procedure, Jury Trials, Jury Instructions, General Overview, Types of Defects, Design Defects, Business & Corporate Compliance, Sales of Goods, Remedies, Standards of Review, Harmless & Invited Errors, Appeals, Prejudicial Errors, Reversible Errors, Elements, Duty, Foreseeability of Harm, Contracts Law, Warranties, Affirmative Duty to Act, Creators of Foreseeable Peril