Lawn Care Can Be Dangerous

At least it was for one Virgina man, Robert Mavity (“Mavity”), who was injured when his riding lawn mower overturned and landed on top of him while he was mowing his lawn on an incline. Mavity v. MTD Products, Inc., No. 1:09 CV 00027, 2010 WL 2169633 (W.D. Va. Jun. 1, 2010). As a result of the accident, Mavity claimed limited mobility due to weakness and neurological problems. Therefore, Mavity filed an action against the manufacturer, MTD Products, Inc. (“MTD”), asserting the that lawn mower was defectively designed, MTD failed to warn of the mower’s dangerous condition, and that MTD breached the implied warranty of merchantability and fitness.

MTD moved for summary judgment on the grounds that there was no evidence that the mower was defective, Mavity unforeseeably misused the product, the hazard was open and obvious, and there was no failure to warn that made the product unreasonably dangerous.

The District Court denied MTD’s motion, first finding that whether the product was defective and whether MTD failed to warn of this dangerous condition were jury issues because Mavity’s expert witness’ opinion — that the mower should have had control level dampers and that these dampers were commonly on mowers — was sufficient to show an unreasonably dangerous condition. The Court also found Mavity’s alleged misuse was a jury question because his expert opined that none of the changes he made to the mower had any effect on the accident. Additionally, the Court found that the question is not whether the defect was open and obvious, but whether the hazard was open and obvious, and Mavity was not aware of the characteristics of the mower that made it more hazardous to accelerate up a slope.

Rulings against MTD kept on coming. Judge Jones granted Mavity’s motion to prevent MTD from offering evidence of the alleged intervening negligence of the doctors that treated Mavity after the accident. The Court reasoned that “the initial medical treatment of Mavity was a reasonably foreseeable result of the initial accident [and any] third-party negligence is thus irrelevant to Mavity’s claim against MTD and must be excluded from the jury.” The Court also rejected MTD’s motion to exclude approximately 500 documents listed as “sources” by Mavity’s expert in evaluating whether the mower was defectively designed. While the Court found that these documents were of limited value, it provided that the parties could challenge trial exhibits at a later time.

Not all was lost for MTD, Judge Jones did rule in its favor on one motion. The Court agreed with MTD and barred Mavity’s expert from offering his future medical cost projections, including a preliminary life care plan, in the absence of proper qualifications of his expert to provide this type of opinion.

With seemingly credible expert testimony on design defect and failure to warn, Mavity was able to get past MTD’s motion for summary judgment and have a jury of his peers decide his case. This case is instructive to defendants that seek summary judgment in the face of expert evidence to the contrary.

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