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Secured Summary Judgment for Fortune 100 Client in Leg Amputation Case

A Hodgson Russ team led by Ryan J. Lucinski and Matthew K. Parker won summary judgment in a product liability action against our client, which is a global manufacturer of agricultural and lawn care equipment. The plaintiff was a golf course groundskeeper and was operating a compact utility tractor, with a thatcher attachment, to thatch tee boxes on the day of his accident. At the end of the day, he parked the tractor to hose it down and the attachment, which was still under power at the time; in so doing, he slipped and got his foot caught in the running thatcher blades, suffering significant injuries that resulted in a below-the-knee amputation of his right leg. During discovery, we adduced evidence that the tractor’s seat switch—which normally cuts power to the rear power take-off unit when the operator leaves the seat—had been bypassed while in the exclusive possession of the plaintiff’s employer. This is why the attachment continued to run when the plaintiff got off the tractor. In an effort to sidestep the strong evidence supporting our client’s “subsequent modification” defense, the plaintiff alleged that the tractor’s seat switch mechanism was too easy to bypass, and that the client should have foreseen this circumstance and implemented a safer, alternative design. We were able to show and argue that the safety mechanism was state of the art, in accord with industry standards, and a common design among competitor model tractors. Further, expert opinion supported that the bypass required concerted effort and experience in electrical wiring and systems, and it was not “easy.” The plaintiff sought in excess of $20,000,000 in damages. The Court granted summary judgment to our client and all other defendants, and disposed of the case entirely. No appeal was taken.