Spring is in full swing, which means many homeowners will be working to maintain their lawn and landscaping.

With all the various tools available for this purpose, there is a potential for injury, particularly if the tools prove defective. Product liability lawyers in Florida recognize that one of the most dangerous tools used commonly by homeowners is a lawnmower.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that in 2010, some 253,000 people were treated for lawnmower-related injuries in the U.S. Of those, about 17,000 were children. What’s more, the rate of lawnmower injuries has increased by 3 percent over the course of just a couple years.

A number of recent lawsuits have been filed against lawnmower manufacturers, alleging basic product design flaws that made them especially dangerous.

Last year in Mississippi, a man said he was seriously injured by a lawnmower when he jumped off when attacked by a swarm of yellow jackets. In doing so, he asserted that the cut-off switch should have disengaged the engine. However, it didn’t and the machine ended up running over him, slicing his legs and completely severing one of his kneecaps. Though his injuries were life-threatening, he received prompt medical treatment and survived.

More recently, the Oregon Supreme Court remanded a case back to the appellate court after the court declined to consider the merits of the plaintiff’s assignments of error by the trial court.

In that case, Purdy v. Deere & Company, the action arose out of an incident in which a young child was seriously injured when her father backed his riding mower over the child. The lawnmower was made so that the cutting blades would shut off automatically when the vehicle was in reverse, but by design, the driver could override that safety feature by pressing a button on the dashboard. The father was using this feature when, unbeknownst to him, his daughter approached the lawnmower from behind.

The lawsuit alleged strict liability and negligence, asserting that the mower was defective and either negligently designed or unreasonably dangerous.

The defense contended that the plaintiff had failed to use the vehicle as instructed, didn’t keep a lookout and failed to make sure his daughter was properly supervised.

Jurors at trial sided with the defense, and the appellate court affirmed that ruling. However, the case was remanded upon review by the state supreme court, where the justices determined the appellate court had not fully considered the plaintiff’s arguments.

It’s worth noting that misuse of a product isn’t necessarily grounds on which a claim for product liability can be dismissed. Consider the recent case of Hoover v. New Holland N. Am., Inc. Here, the New York State court of appeals affirmed a nearly $9 million verdict against companies that sold a post-hole digger involved in the severe injuries of a teenage girl who was helping her stepfather install a fence. She lost her right arm due to the incident, which everyone agreed would not have happened if the safety shield hadn’t been removed by the owner, who said the shield broke during normal use.

The justices, in that case, ruled that although owners are required to keep equipment in good working repair, they shouldn’t be required to continually replace defective safety devices – even if it’s cheap and relatively easy to do so.

While lawnmower users can’t be held responsible for defective products, there are a number of ways that safety can be put first. Those include:

  • Never allow a child under the age of 12 to operate any lawnmower or a child under 16 from operating a riding lawnmower.
  • Never allow children to passengers on ride-on lawnmowers.
  • Always ensure children are at a safe distance or secure area when you are mowing.
  • Wear sturdy shoes when mowing.
  • Pick up toys, stones, and other debris to prevent objects from flying.
  • Always wear ear and eye protection.

The Ferraro Law Firm handles personal injury and wrongful death litigation. Call (888) 554-2030​ for a free and confidential consultation. Offices in Miami and Washington, D.C.

Additional Resources:
Purdy v. Deere & Company, April 17, 2014, Oregon Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Defective Home and Outdoor Products Can Lead to Serious Summertime Injury, July 15, 2013, Product Liability Lawyer Blog