Gross Negligence

70-Year Old Pinned Underneath Riding Mower


  • Plaintiff claimed Gross Negligence-Products Liability-Design Defect-Wrongful Death- Survival Damages
  • Decendent was pinned under the “deck” of a ZRT (Zero Turn Radius Lawn Mower). Deck is the part of the mower that houses the blades. Blades and engine were already turned off
  • Cause of death was mechanical asphyxiation; the weight of the mower compressed his chest and prevented him from breathing.

Case Summary

Decedent’s family sued the mower manufacturer claiming the mower failed to comply with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) because the traction drive didn’t automatically disengage when there was no operator in the seat. Plaintiff’s engineering expert opined that the decedent accidentally activated one of the control arms while re-mounting the mower, and that the mower then spun on top of him.

McDowell Owens Engineering was hired by defense counsel, on behalf of the manufacturer to analyze all available information and determine the causal factors related to the incident. It was determined that for Plaintiff’s expert’s scenario to be true, decedent would have had to disregard safety warnings to turn off the engine and set the parking brake before leaving the mower.

We further determined that the mower did comply with the ANSI standard in question. When the operator is seated on the mower, he cannot dismount without putting the control arms in the "outboard" position, or moving them to the side, which disengages the traction drive. It was determined that the most likely scenario was that the decedent ran the mower up into the brush by mistake, and when he crawled underneath the deck and tried to disentangle it, the mower likely dropped or settled onto him. It was also discovered that decedent had previously performed repairs on the mower himself, and that he had wired around the seat safety switch.


The jury found no design defect and found decedent negligent.

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