Dague v. Piper Aircraft Corp.

Decision Date26 March 1981
Docket NumberNo. 181S24,181S24
Citation275 Ind. 520,418 N.E.2d 207
Parties, 25 A.L.R.4th 629 Kathy DAGUE, Individually and Special Administratrix, Estate of John R. Dague, Deceased, Appellant, v. PIPER AIRCRAFT CORPORATION, Appellee.
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Frank E. Tolbert, Miller, Tolbert & Wildman, Logansport, for appellant.

Peter G. Tamulonis, Kighlinger, Young, Gray & DeTrude, Indianapolis, for appellee.

PIVARNIK, Justice.

This cause comes to us on an order for certification under Ind.R.App.P. 15(O) from the United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit. The case originated in federal district court for the Northern District of Indiana, due to the diversity of citizenship of the parties. Plaintiff is special administratrix of the estate of John R. Dague, her deceased husband. She filed a four count complaint against defendant Piper Aircraft Corporation, seeking damages for the wrongful death of her husband.

The decedent died as a result of injuries sustained in the crash of the Piper Pawnee aircraft he was piloting. The crash occurred on July 7, 1978, and decedent Dague succumbed on September 5, 1978. Plaintiff filed her complaint on October 1, 1979, alleging that John Dague's injuries and death were caused by a defective condition in the aircraft. It is undisputed that defendant Piper Aircraft Corporation manufactured the plane in 1965 and placed the aircraft in the stream of commerce on March 26, 1965.

The federal district court sustained Piper Aircraft's motion for summary judgment on the ground that the action is barred by section five of the Indiana Product Liability Act, Ind.Code § 33-1-1.5-5 (Burns § 34-4-20A-5 (1980 Supp.)). The district court further held that section five does not contravene article one, section twelve, nor article four, section nineteen of the Indiana Constitution. Plaintiff then prosecuted an appeal to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals determined that the substantive law of Indiana controls the questions presented on the appeal, and that there are no clear and controlling precedents from the Supreme Court of Indiana from which a determination of all of the issues may be made. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals has certified the following questions to us and requested our instruction thereon:

(1) Does the statute of limitations in the Product Liability Act apply to bar this action, in view of the word "or" between the two statutory periods of time?;

(2) Does this statute of limitation apply to bar this action, notwithstanding plaintiff's contention that defendant's alleged failure to warn occurred within the statutory period of limitations?;

(3) Does this statute of limitation contravene article one, section twelve of the Indiana Constitution?; and

(4) Does the Product Liability Act contravene article four, section nineteen of the Indiana Constitution?

In 1965, Piper Aircraft manufactured a Piper Pawnee PA-25-235 aircraft, bearing serial number 25-3263 and Federal Aviation Administration number N7317Z. As noted above, Piper Aircraft first sold this plane and placed it in the stream of commerce on March 26, 1965. On July 7, 1978, near Logansport, Indiana, the plane crashed and burned while being flown by plaintiff's decedent, John Dague. As a result of injuries sustained in that crash, John Dague died on September 5, 1978.

Piper Aircraft Corporation contends that this cause is barred by section five of the 1978 Product Liability Act. Ind.Code § 33-1-1.5-5 (Burns § 34-4-20A-5) provides:

"This section applies to all persons regardless of minority or legal disability. Notwithstanding Ind.Code § 34-1-2-5, any product liability action must be commenced within two years after the cause of action accrues or within ten years after the delivery of the product to the initial user or consumer; except that, if the cause of action accrues more than eight years but not more than ten years after the initial delivery, the action may be commenced at any time within two years after the cause of action accrues."

Under Piper Aircraft's interpretation of this statute, our legislature intended to place an outer limit of ten years on all product liability actions, except where the cause of action accrues more than eight (but less than ten) years after initial delivery of the product. On the other hand, plaintiff argues the statute provides for two alternative periods of limitation. In support of this contention, plaintiff points to the legislature's use of the disjunctive "or" in describing the time limitations. Plaintiff also argues this section violates article one, section twelve and article four, section nineteen of the Indiana Constitution. We shall address these issues in the sequence in which they are presented by the Court of Appeals' certified questions order.


In construing an Indiana statute, our duty is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. In doing so, we must give meaning to the language used, where that meaning is clear and unambiguous. Where the meaning of the statute is ambiguous, however, or where one or more constructions are apparently possible, we must construe the statute so as to arrive at the apparent intention of the legislature which is consistently revealed in all sections of the act, and consistent with all other statutes passed by the legislature. See, e. g., Loza v. State, (1975) 263 Ind. 124, 128-29, 325 N.E.2d 173, 176; State ex rel. Bynum v. LaPorte Superior Court, (1973) 259 Ind. 647, 650, 291 N.E.2d 355, 356; Thompson v. Thompson, (1972) 259 Ind. 266, 273, 286 N.E.2d 657, 661; Allen County Dep't of Public Welfare v. Ball Memorial Hosp. Ass'n, (1969) 253 Ind. 179, 184-85, 252 N.E.2d 424, 427; State v. Gilbert, (1966) 247 Ind. 544, 219 N.E.2d 892, 895.

The clear intention of the legislature in section five was to limit the time within which product liability actions can be brought. However, under plaintiff's interpretation, which emphasizes the legislature's use of the disjunctive "or," the three phrases of this section are not reconcilable with each other. In addition, such an interpretation would give nothing more to or take nothing more from the plaintiff than she already had under our general limitation statutes already in existence at the time the act was passed. See Ind.Code § 34-1-2-1 et seq. (Burns 1973). Plaintiff would have us interpret the statute to give a claimant the right to bring an action within two years after it accrues, without any reference to the length of time which has passed since the initial entry of the product into commerce. If the legislature had intended such a rule, they could simply have stated it in those terms. The obvious intent of the statute, however, is that the action must be brought within two years after it accrues, but in any event within ten years after the product is first delivered to the initial user or consumer, unless the action accrues more than eight but less than ten years after the product's introduction into the stream of commerce.

Our Court of Appeals recognized this proposition in Amermac, Inc. v. Gordon, (1979) Ind.App., 394 N.E.2d 946, 948 n.4, with the following observation:

"Although not deciding the issue, we note that Indiana's recently enacted Products Liability Act, Ind.Code (1978 Supp.) § 33-1-1.5-1 (Acts 1978, P.L. 141, Sec. 28), may shed light upon the Legislature's intentions as the applicable statute of limitations in these situations. First, although somewhat confusingly drafted, see J. Vargo & J. Leibman, Survey of Recent Developments in Products Liability, 12 Ind.L.Rev. 227, 249 (1979), the legislature clearly intended to place an absolute time limit on liability for a product's defects, including actions in negligence. Ind.Code (1978 Supp.) § 33-1-1.5-1. This policy would be defeated by applying a tort limitation which would not begin to run until after an injury, no matter when that injury occurred. Second, the Legislature specifically differentiated between actions in tort (negligence and strict liability) and warranty actions. Ind.Code (1978 Supp.) § 33-1-1.5-1. This, too, would seem to indicate that a contract statute of limitations would apply in actions for personal injuries due to a breach of implied warranty."

Legal scholars have reached a similar conclusion:

"Reference to House Bill No. 1258 reveals language similar to the enacted bill, with the exception that the two limitation provisions are joined with the word 'and' rather than 'or'. Although the legislature in conference committee might have chosen a completely opposite course to that introduced in the House, such an analysis would find the clause following, 'initial user or consumer,' to be mere surplusage. This clause states: '(E)xcept that, if the cause of action accrues more than eight (8) years but not more than ten (10) years after that initial delivery, the action may be commenced at any time within two (2) years after the cause of action accrues. Unless the ten-year period was intended to be an outer cutoff, there would be no need to state again that the plaintiff has two years in which to bring his action if his injury occurs during the ninth or tenth year of the life of the product. The purpose of this clause is clearly to insure that all plaintiffs injured within ten years of delivery will, nevertheless, have a full two years to file a claim."

J. Vargo & J. Leibman, supra, 12 Ind.L.Rev. at 250 (emphasis added).

We find this argument to be persuasive. We are also persuaded by Piper Aircraft's contention that plaintiff's proposed interpretation not only ignores the clear legislative intent, it also would produce the irrational result of granting persons injured by a new product ten years to file suit, while granting only two years to all others. Plaintiff correctly argues that the interpretation of the statute we now adopt, in effect, changes the disjunctive term "or," which, of course, appears in the statute, to the conjunctive "and." While...

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