The New York State Court of Appeals found that the seller and distributor of a posthole digger was liable for an accident that cost a teen girl her arm, even though the owner of the product conceded that he had removed a piece of the device that might have protected her.
While the defendant in the case of Hoover v. New Holland N. Am., Inc. argued that post-sale modifications were to blame for the girl’s injuries, the court held that the removal of the safety device wasn’t a substantial enough modification to absolve the seller/distributor of inherent design flaws that created a potential risk.
New York City personal injury lawyers recognize that this case strengthens the stance for future product liability plaintiffs, even in cases where the product may have been slightly altered after it was purchased.
The product in question was a post hole digger and the tractor on which it was mounted, which was purchased sometime in 2000. Over the course of the next four years, the owner of the device indicated that he had drilled somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 holes with it before he removed the plastic safety shield. He conceded that he probably dug a bit deeper sometimes than what the owner’s manual recommended, causing the shield to suffer greater wear than usual. However, he didn’t replace the $40 piece because he was convinced it would simply be destroyed again.
Then in 2004, he allowed the 16-year-old girl’s father to borrow the tool. The girl’s father was using the device to install posts in his backyard and his daughter was helping to ensure the device was straight before he began digging. At some point,the girl’s coat became ensnared, and she got dragged into the device, resulting in her right arm becoming severed just above the elbow.
The girl filed a lawsuit against the seller, distributor, manufacturer, component maker and others, asserting strict negligence and product liability. All parties would later agree that had the safety plate been on the device at the time, the incident would never have happened.
Other defendants settled, but the seller/distributor remained as the case moved closer to trial.
Defendants cited the post-sale modification defense that had recently been upheld in the case of Robinson v. Reed-Prentice Division of Package Machinery Company, also decided by the New York State Court of Appeals. There, the court found that a productmaker’s responsibilities don’t necessarily extend to the creation of a product that’s impossible to abuse or when safety features can’t be circumvented. However, the company does need to use reasonable care in making a product that is reasonably safe for all intended uses – and even for misuses that are foreseeable.
Writing for the majority in the Hoover case, Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam pointed out that their findings in Hoover didn’t conflict with Robinson because the post-modification defense is not absolute.
Following a settlement with all but two of the defendants for $4.6 million, a jury then awarded her an additional $8.8 million in damages.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Hoover v. New Holland N. Am., Inc., April 1, 2014, New York State Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
Younger Implant Patients Harmed by Defective Medical Devices, Nov. 13, 2013, New York City Defective Product Lawyer