Aug 14

Injuries Caused by Soybean Combine Leads to Products Liability Suit

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Plaintiff Who Lost Hand Alleges Agco Corporation’s Combine Defective

A federal judge in Pennsylvania recently denied Defendant Agco Corporation’s motion for summary judgment, thereby allowing Plaintiff Ryan Beer to present his claims for strict products liability and negligence to a jury.  Beer v. Agco Corporation, CV-12-1391 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 4, 2014).

The plaintiff was injured in 2012, when his grandfather was operating the Gleaner R65 combine, which is used to harvest soybeans. While operating the combine in a field, the grandfather observed that the rock trap indicator light was turned on, indicating that a rock had been pulled into the machine. The grandfather drove the combine from the field back to the farm and asked the plaintiff to help him clean and close the rock trap, which is located on the right side of the combine.  Gaining access to the trap requires lowering a step platform and raising a side shield that covers much, but not all of the right side of the machine. The trap is then “raked” using a device stored on the combine. The trap must then be closed using a wrench in order to turn off the indicator light and alarm inside the cab. The grandfather and the plaintiff cleaned and closed the trap.

After the grandfather returned to the cab and turned the engine back on, he noticed that the gear controlling the combine’s thresher operation had inadvertently been shifted out of the “high” position.  Because the gear shift lever is located near the rock trap, the grandfather believed that it had been shifted inadvertently while he and the plaintiff were cleaning the trap.  As the machine must be set to high gear in order to harvest soybeans, the grandfather called to the plaintiff, who was seated in a utility vehicle on the left side of the combine, and asked him to reset the gear.  As the plaintiff drove around the back of the combine toward the area of the gear shift lever, the grandfather turned the combine’s engine and operating functions off.  While the plaintiff was in the area of the gear shift lever and out of the grandfather’s sight, his left arm became entangled in a moving sheave, causing numerous severe injuries, including a nearly severed left hand that was later amputated, broken bones, lacerations, bruises, nerve damage and loss of teeth.

Products Liability Standard

The court reiterated that the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A (which Montana also follows) imposes strict liability on the manufacturer of a defective product that is unreasonably dangerous to the user.  To recover under a strict products liability theory, a party must show: (1) the product was defective; (2) the defect caused his injuries; and (3) the defect causing the injury existed at the time the product left Defendant’s hands.

The court stated that to prevail on a design defect theory under either a negligence or strict liability standard, Plaintiff must show that the alleged defect—in this case, the absence of guards in the area of the accident—was a substantial contributing factor in bringing about his injuries. This may be done through circumstantial evidence, which is defined as “a mere preponderance of probabilities,” but the circumstances must be strong enough that they can reasonably form the basis of a jury’s conclusion.  The court rejected the defendant’s arguments regarding causation, and found that the plaintiff’s expert witnesses created an issue of fact on causation.  One expert opined that Defendant failed to properly guard the moving parts of the drive assembly.  A second expert concluded that the plaintiff’s injuries are the result of accidental contact with the sheave or the belt wrapped around it, which drew his arm into a pinch point between the sheave and a metal bar to its right, while the plaintiff was in or approaching the space between the tire and the step platform.

It will now be up to the jury to make the final determination.  If you believe that you have been injured by a defective product, you should contact an attorney like Philip McGrady with experience in this area of the law.

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