Defense Verdict in a Product Liability Case (Tractor Design)
On October 5, 2018, Dean Murtagh and Jacob Lehman obtained a defense verdict on behalf of their client, a manufacturer of agricultural equipment, after a three-week wrongful death jury trial in Monmouth County, New Jersey.
The trial centered on a May 2013 accident at an orchard in Freehold New Jersey where the Plaintiff’s Decedent was killed while operating an agricultural utility tractor (the “Tractor”) manufactured and sold by the Defendant in 1975. On the day of the accident, the Decedent, together with his co-worker, was using the Tractor and a chain to pull downed trees out of a field. The men improperly high-hitched the chain to the Tractor at a point above the rear axle; something that is warned against in the manual and in decals on the machine. When the Decedent drove the tractor forward the log he was pulling became stuck and the Tractor flipped over front to rear landing on top of the Decedent and killing him.
At trial the Plaintiff contended the Tractor was defective for failing to incorporate a rollover protective system (ROPS) when manufactured and sold. Through Mr. Murtagh and Mr. Lehman, the Defendant maintained that this Tractor, which was a custom designed machine for low-profile orchard use, could not have a ROPS in 1975 because it destroyed the tractors utility under low fruit trees and actually made it more dangerous in the orchard. The Defendant also maintained that the cause of the accident was not the Tractor but instead the actions of the Plaintiff and his co-worker in improperly hitching the Tractor and the actions of the farm in failing to train its employees and failing to give them the right equipment for the job. The demand prior to trial was 3.8 million dollars. The jury returned a complete defense verdict.