Michigan Verdicts

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Child suffered partial foot amputation in mower incident

Amount:

$3,966,676

Type:

Verdict-Mixed

State:

Michigan

Venue:

Genesee County

Court:

Genesee County, Circuit Court

Injury Type(s):

other-laceration; other-scar and/or disfigurement foot/heel-Achilles tendon; tear;
amputation-foot

Case Type:

Negligence Per Se; Premises Liability – Residence; Products Liability – Lawn Mowers, Design Defect; Premises Liability – Failure to Warn; Products Liability – Failure to Warn

Case Name:

Nicole Ann Janowski, Next Friend of Isabella Case v. Deere & Company and Star Callahan,
No. 14-103771-NI

Date:

August 31, 2017

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Isabella Case (Female, 4 Years), 

Nicole Ann Janowski, Next Friend (Female)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Craig E. Hilborn;
Hilborn & Hilborn, PC;
Birmingham,
MI,
for
Isabella Case, Nicole Ann Janowski, Next Friend ■ Kevin C. Riddle;
Hilborn & Hilborn;
Birmingham,
MI,
for
Isabella Case, Nicole Ann Janowski, Next Friend

Defendant(s):

Deere & Co., 

Star Callahan

Defense Attorney(s):

James M. Brogan;
DLA Piper LLP;
Philadelphia,
PA,
for
Deere & Co. ■ Nancy Shane Rappaport;
DLA Piper LLP;
Philadelphia,
PA,
for
Deere & Co. ■ Jeffrey D. Smith;
Honigman Miller Schwartz & Cohn, LLP;
Kalamazoo,
MI,
for
Deere & Co. ■ Chelsea E. Pasquali;
;
Troy,
MI,
for
Star Callahan

Facts:

On July 5, 2014, plaintiff Isabella Case, 4, was injured when Star Callahan, owner of the property where the incident occurred, allegedly backed over the child while operating a 20-year-old John Deere lawn tractor, model LX 178. Isabella suffered a partial foot amputation and achilles tendon injury. Isabella’s next friend, Nicole Ann Janowski, filed suit on behalf of the minor against Callahan and Deere & Co., manufacturer of the lawn tractor. Janowski alleged that Callahan was negligent in the operation of the lawn tractor in that she failed to keep a proper watch as she was reversing the tractor and failed to avoid running over Isabella’s foot. As to Deere & Co., Janowski asserted a products liability cause of action, arguing that the lawn tractor was defective because it was not equipped with a “no-mow in reverse” (NMIR) feature. The NMIR feature would have allegedly stopped the blades when the tractor was in reverse mode. Janowski argued that this feature was available at the time of the lawn tractor’s manufacture. Callahan denied negligence and contended that the accident would have been avoided had Deere & Co. installed the NMIR feature at the time of the lawn tractor’s manufacture. Deere & Co. argued that Janowski’s proposed alternative design would not have made the lawn tractor any safer, nor would it have prevented the child’s injuries. Deere argued that it had considered and rejected the design in lieu of other design changes. Deere alleged that, even with NMIR, blades continue to rotate for a certain amount of time when the tractor is in reverse. According to Deere, this is because it is impossible to instantaneously stop 3-4 pound steel blades from spinning when they are rotating at up to 200 mph. Deere also argued that, since the blades cannot stop right away, the lawn tractor continues to travel in reverse with the blades still rotating until they come to a stop. Deere asserted that a lawn tractor can back anywhere from two feet to more than ten feet while blades are still rotating. Therefore, if a child is directly behind the lawn tractor, even NMIR will not prevent blade contact injuries from the still-rotating blades. Deere & Co. also contended that NMIR prevents the operator from being able to maneuver the lawn tractor in reverse while the mower deck is on (preventing “on demand reverse”), which creates a situation that is not only frustrating to operators, but can also put operators in a dangerous situation, i.e., shutting down the engine when an operator attempts to quickly reverse upon approaching a busy road, ravine or steep drop-off. Deere asserted that studies have shown that frustrated operators often bypass the NMIR because they find it difficult to maneuver the machine in reverse. Also, Deere claimed that the NMIR also works to shut down the power take-off (PTO), which operates any attachment (not just mower decks), including a snow blower. Per Deere, consumers need to be able to operate a snow blower in reverse in order to prevent it from clogging. Without any option to be able to operate an attachment in reverse, Deere argued that the machine could be rendered more dangerous as operators reach into the blower area to unclog it. Moreover, Deere claimed there is no evidence that NMIR has prevented any accidents, as they have still occurred with MTD machines designed with NMIR. In fact, Deere maintained that the Consumer Product Safety Commission considered requiring NMIR on lawn and garden tractors, but rejected the proposal, noting that there was no evidence it prevented accidents or that it made the machines any safer. Deere & Co. further asserted that the accident was caused by Callahan’s negligence. Deere argued that Callahan failed to keep a proper lookout while reversing the tractor and noted that Callahan admitted that she did, in fact, hit Isabella “instantly” after depressing the reverse pedal.

Injury:

Isabella Case suffered a partial foot amputation and achilles tendon laceration as a result of the underlying incident. She underwent multiple medical procedures. The parties stipulated to medicals of $210,676. In addition to medicals, Janowski sought damages for pain and suffering and permanent disfigurement. The defense disputed the extent of damages.

Result:

The jury found that Callahan was negligent, but returned a verdict of no cause of action for Deere & Co. The jury awarded Isabella Case a total of $3,966,676 against Callahan. The award included $3,506,000 in future damages, which was to be reduced to present value.

Isabella Case:
$210,676 Personal Injury: Past Medical Cost; $250,000 Personal Injury: Past Pain And Suffering; $3,506,000 Personal Injury: Future Pain And Suffering

Trial Information:

Judge:

Archie Hayman

Trial Length:

2
 weeks

Trial Deliberations:

5
 hours

Jury Composition:

6 jurors

Post Trial:

Judgment had not been entered at the time of publication.

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by defense counsel for Deere & Company and information obtained from court records. Plaintiff’s counsel and defense counsel for Callahan did not respond to requests for comment.