Question

In 2001, Donald Malen purchased a Yard-Man riding mower at a Home Depot store. The mower was manufactured by MTD Products in 1998 and was advertised as "Reconditioned Power Equipment" with a "Full Manufacturer's Warranty." The mower was designed with a safety interlock system. One component of that system was the Operator Presence Control, or OPC, a device that kills the engine if the operator rises from the seat without first disengaging the cutting blade and setting the parking brake.
A second component was the "no cut in reverse" switch, or NCR, which kills the engine if the operator shifts into reverse without first disengaging the blade. The American National Standards Institute ("ANSI"), a voluntary organization that develops nationwide consensus standards for a variety of devices and procedures, did not make an NCR compulsory until 2003, but by 1996 the organization had mandated that riding mowers had to have an OPC that would stop the engine and fully arrest the blade within five seconds of being triggered. Before Malen purchased the mower, he tested it under the supervision of a Home Depot sales employee. During that test ride, Malen never rose from the seat with the engine running. A label on the mower in front of the seat warned the operator with these statements:
DO NOT OPERATE THE UNIT WHERE IT COULD SLIP OR TIP. BE SURE BLADE(S) AND ENGINE ARE STOPPED BEFORE PLACING HANDS OR FEET NEAR BLADE(S). BEFORE LEAVING THE OPERATOR'S POSITION, DISENGAGE BLADE(S), PLACE THE SHIFT LEVER IN NEUTRAL, ENGAGE THE PARKING BRAKE, SHUT OFF AND REMOVE KEY.
Between 2001 and 2004, Malen operated the mower 30 to 50 times without incident. But in October 2004 he was mulching leaves with the mower and wedged the right front tire over a curb. He tried without success to free the machine by rocking his weight in the seat and shifting gears between forward and reverse.
At that point Malen raised the cutting deck, removed his foot from the pedal which engages the blade, and started to dismount. But he did not turn off the engine or listen to confirm whether the blade had stopped spinning. It had not. As Malen rose from the seat and stepped off the mower, his left foot slipped under the cutting deck and was struck by the rotating blade. The lacerations to the sole of his foot were severe, and he permanently lost full use of his foot. Neither the OPC nor the NCR functioned when the accident occurred. Malen sued MTD Products and Home Depot on strict liability and negligence grounds. He contended that the mower was negligently manufactured and unreasonably dangerous because its OPC was not connected and thus inoperable. He also contended that the mower was negligently designed because MTD Products had shunned a "fail safe" system that would have made the cutting blade unusable even without the OPC connected. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, concluding that Malen's own actions were the sole proximate cause of his injury. Was the court correct in granting summary judgment to the defendants?



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  • CreatedJuly 16, 2014
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