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$________ Products Liability - Wrongful Death - Negligent design of skidloader - Inadequate warnings - Claims against manufacturer and dealer of used skidloader.

Hennepin County, Minnesota

This products liability action arose out of the death of the 51- year-old male decedent while operating a used skidloader manufactured and sold by the defendants. The plaintiff alleged that the safety interlock, the purpose of which was to prevent arm and bucket movement when the operator is off the seat, was negligently designed, resulting in failure of the safety interlock during use by the decedent. The plaintiff sought compensatory damages for the wrongful death of the decedent. The plaintiff additionally sought to recovery punitive damages against the defendant dealer on several grounds.

The subject accident occurred on January 27, ________, while the decedent was operating a HL2500A Gehl skidloader. The decedent was found with his head between the right lift arm of the subject skidloader and the body of the skidloader. He was crushed to death by the arm of the skidloader. Accident reconstruction suggests that the decedent was attempting to change buckets while standing inside the skidloader.

He apparently leaned forward under the arm to pull the attachment pin when his body inadvertently struck the hydraulic handle directly in front of him causing the bucket to lower and the arm to crush him.

The plaintiff contended that the safety interlock designed to prevent arm and bucket movement when the operator was off the seat failed due to defective design and due to the dealer’s negligence in failing to adequately identify and remedy linkage maladjustment of the hydraulic mechanism rods prior to sale of the skidloader. The plaintiff additionally alleged that the defendant manufacturer failed to provide adequate warnings regarding the risks associated with the operation of the machine as well as approximately 35 prior injuries or deaths resulting from the same or substantially similar defect in similar machines.

As against the defendant dealer, Heinens Mercantile Company, the plaintiff asserted a claim for punitive damages based upon this defendant’s failure to act upon a recall notice sent by the defendant manufacturers advising of the need to install a t-bar retrofit kit. The retrofit kit was designed to prevent the type of accident which apparently caused the death of the decedent. The plaintiff’s punitive damages claim against Heinens additionally found support in evidence establishing that this defendant failed to provide warnings passed along to it by the defendant manufacturer regarding the need to change attachments which required the operator to leave the bucket in a down position during the changing process. Finally, the plaintiff was prepared to offer evidence that the defendant dealer failed to properly repair the safety interlock system after having been given adequate notice that the interlock system had failed.

The plaintiff claimed compensatory damages for the wrongful death of the decedent. Loss of income was calculated on a cash flow basis at the sum of approximately $________ per year. Tax returns reflected a somewhat smaller income.

The defendants disputed liability and contended that the decedent’s overwhelming negligence in getting up from the seat during operation of the skidloader was the sole proximate cause of his injury.

The case settled prior to trial for $________. The defendant dealer contributed approximately 80% of the settlement.

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