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Bush v. SECO Electric Co.

United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
118 F.3d 519 (1997)


Facts

Jerri Bush (plaintiff) worked at Rumpke Recycling, Inc. (Rumpke), a recycling plant for aluminum cans. SECO Electric Company (SECO) (defendant) installed the wiring for a can conveyor that moved cans within a pit into a hopper. If the conveyor left some cans behind, an employee would descend into the pit, gather the cans, and haul them out of the pit. Cans were not supposed to be fed into the conveyor manually from within the pit, and the safety protocol was to shut off the conveyor from outside the pit prior to entering it. There was no emergency shut-off button in the pit where employees would be cleaning up extraneous cans. A month after SECO installed the conveyor, Bush performed pit duty for the first time. Unaware of the safety protocol, she left the conveyor running and shoveled the loose cans directly onto the conveyor. The conveyor caught Bush’s clothes, and she lost her arm. Bush sued SECO for negligently failing to wire an emergency shut-off switch inside the pit. SECO moved for summary judgment, arguing that under Indiana law, the acceptance rule barred liability between SECO and Bush. The acceptance rule provided that a contractor’s duty of care extended only to the party with whom it held a contract, or had privity. After an owner accepts a contractor’s work, the owner becomes exclusively liable for injury arising from the work. SECO argued that once Rumpke accepted SECO’s installation of the conveyor’s wiring, Rumpke became solely liable for injuries caused by the conveyor’s defects, because SECO lacked privity with the conveyor’s users. The district court agreed that SECO did not owe Bush a duty of care and granted SECO’s motion for summary judgment. Bush appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Cudahy, J.)

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