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DEFENDANT’S Product Liability – Manufacturing Defect – Man sues after tractor fails to auto-stop and runs him over.

Superior Court of San Diego County, San Diego

This case saw suit against the manufacturers associated with a tractor which ran over a school employee. The defendant manufacturer and the other associated defendants severally denied liability.

The intervening plaintiff was an employee of the defendant Chula Vista Elementary School District. On the date of incident the plaintiff was operating a tractor/mower with which he was aerating a sports field when he was ejected from the vehicle. The vehicle ran him down, causing him substantial injury. The plaintiff later asserted that the tractor seat was designed to shut off power to the engine if the operator left the seat while the vehicle was in drive mode and there was power to an attachment.

The plaintiff school district filed suit in the Superior Court of San Diego County for product liability and personal injury, naming C. R. Jaeschke, Inc. (the manufacturer of the tractor), the dealership where the tractor was purchased, the manufacturer of the aerator and various manufacturers of the electrical components(Chula Vista Elementary School District v. C. R. Jaeschke, Inc.). The plaintiff also filed a Complaint-in-Intervention on the original case ("Fernandez v. Grammer, Inc."). He sought past and future medical care compensation, compensation for lost wages and lost earning capacity, as well as non-economic damages.

The plaintiff asked the jury for approximately $3.6 million in economic damages and a total of $40 million in non-economic damages. The plaintiff asserted that the safety system, including the "seat switch" (which shuts off the tractor if the driver’s seat is vacant) was defective, as it had not shut off when he left the seat. He further claimed that the absence of a seat belt (which was an optional feature) was a design defect. The jury heard testimony from the plaintiff’s accident reconstruction and industrial safety experts, as well as experts in physiatry & neurology, life care, vocational rehabilitation and an economist. The defense brought an expert on mechanical engineering and another on human factors.The jury was instructed on causes of action for strict product liability (manufacturing defect with respect to the seat switch and strict product liability) design defect with respect to the lack of a seatbelt.After over two years of litigation and a three and a-half week trial, the jury deliberated for five hours before returning a ten to two verdict for the defendant, finding no liability for the party of Grammer, Inc.

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