A federal jury for the U.S. Western District of Texas has awarded a woman nearly $16 million in a product liability lawsuit against a utility vehicle that reportedly ran her over in 2011, causing her to suffer paralysis from the neck down.
However, because the woman was deemed contributorily negligent by half, she will only receive about $8 million of that. Not all states allow collection of damages in the event plaintiff is found to have been contributorily negligent (North Carolina, for example, bars recovery in those instances), but many – including South Carolina – do.
In Nester v. Textron Inc., the Rhode Island company reportedly manufactured the kick-off brake system in the E-Z -Go Workhorse utility vehicles. In the winter of 2011, plaintiff was working on her family’s ranch near Austin, TX while driving one of these vehicles. She reportedly stepped out of the vehicle to open one of the gates. While her back was turned, a 50-pound bag of feed intended for cattle fell onto the accelerator pedal. Plaintiff opened the gate and turned around, only to find the vehicle moving full-speed at her. It was too late to move.
When it ran over her, it caused her significant injury.
In case you aren’t familiar with a “workhorse,” it looks like a beefed up golf cart, and is mostly used in agriculture. The propulsion system on this particular vehicle is tied to the brake system. That means when an operator steps on the pedal to move it forward, the engine starts and pushes the vehicle forward while also releasing the brake. This creates a major risk if the operator steps out of the vehicle while it’s still running – which is certainly a foreseeable occurrence.
Plaintiff alleged the product manufacturer should be liable to cover her damages because it was aware of this risk before it even started making these vehicles. In fact, the company even thought up a solution to the problem. However, that solution was never implemented.
As the injured woman’s attorney explained, the firm could have produced a product that was not only safer but less expensive – and it would have done the exact same thing. However, they chose not to do this because the vehicles were already slated for production.
This exact same defect was to blame for a highly-publicized case in which a group of high school coaches and sports reporters were injured midfield when one of these driver-less carts plowed into them as they stood talking after a high school football championship game at a stadium in Dallas. That video later went viral, and it occurred just 10 days after plaintiff in Nester was injured.
Plaintiff, who is now quadriplegic and requires around-the-clock medical care, alleged the product was designed defectively and it was unreasonably dangerous for consumers.
Her attorney pointed to the large damage award as a reflection of the fact that plaintiff’s personal injuries and the lifelong effect on her life are “unbelievably massive.”
The victory came despite an earlier ruling that barred plaintiff from presenting evidence of 31 other injury cases involving this same type of vehicle. The judge ruled those cases were not “substantially similar” to this one.
Defendant was “disappointed” with the jury’s decision and damage award, and is weighing legal options, including a potential appeal.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Buda woman wins record lawsuit in accident that left her paralyzed, April 5, 2016, By Will Anderson, Austin Business Journal
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Rote v. Zel Custom Mfg. – Product Liability Case Against Foreign Company, March 22, 2016, Anderson Product Liability Lawyer Blog