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Alachua County, FL

This product liability action was initially brought against the manufacturer, seller, and renter of a large stump cutting/grinding machine. The plaintiff alleged that the machine was dangerously defective, so as to cause amputation of three of the plaintiff’s toes. The defendant manufacturer and seller settled the plaintiff’s claims mid-trial for an undisclosed sum. Accordingly, the case continued only against the company which had leased the stump grinder to the plaintiff. The defendant argued that the machine was not dangerously damaged, and that the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by his own negligence.

The plaintiff was a landlord and developer in his 40s, who had an engineer education. He was working to remove tree stumps at an apartment complex he owned. The plaintiff rented an eight-year-old Vermeer SC252 stump cutter (grinder) from the defendant. The ________-pound machine includes a control panel with a spinning blade some six feet away from the controls. A safety guard was designed to be elevated from the ground and extend across the front of the spinning blade. In this position, the guard would assist in preventing a person or other object from contacting the blade. However, evidence showed that the defendant’s employees had lifted the guard and tied it in an upright position. The plaintiff testified that he was told by the defendant to leave the guard in that position when using the machine.

The plaintiff used the machine to remove several stumps for the first day without incident. On the second day, when the plaintiff almost finished the job of removing the final stump, he called one of his employees to assist. The plaintiff then left the controls, went to the front of the machine, and was standing on the stump being removed. The plaintiff’s employee struck the plaintiff in the foot with the blade of the machine, causing amputation of all or part of three toes.

After surgery and time off, the plaintiff ultimately returned to work, but complained of continuing gait problems. The plaintiff sought $________ dollars in damages from the jury.

The defendant argued that the blade guard had dropped down, was nearly touching the ground, and was tied in the upright position to avoid dragging. The defense contended that it was not uncommon to lift and tie the blade in an upright position.

The defense supported that the plaintiff was well aware that the blade guard was in an upright position and there were no hidden defects in the machine. The defendant maintained that the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by his decision to leave the safety of the controls and put himself in a dangerous positon on top of a stump being removed. The defendant also argued that the plaintiff had made a good recovery from his injuries, and returned to work without restrictions.The jury found that the defendant did not place the stump cutter on the market with a defect, and also that the defendant was not negligent.

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