Andrew Masia as Administrator of the Estate of Nathan Sims v. VT Leeboy, Inc. f/k/a B.R. Lee Industries, Inc. and Wood’s CRW Corporation Rockingham County (New Hampshire) Superior Court Docket No.: 08-C-44
Type of Action: Products Liability/Wrongful Death
Result: $2,125,000 Settlement
Date of Settlement: December 2008
Case Summary: Plaintiff’s decedent was crushed to death by a 7.5 ton road grader which had defectively designed brakes. The road grader was an earth moving machine used to level the ground and clear a pathway to lay roads. It was equipped with a single brake advertised as “fail safe” which served as both a parking brake and emergency brake. On the day of the accident, it had been used to grade the driveway of a private home which was at the top of a hill. Just before the accident the decedent began to drive the grader down the hill so that it could be loaded on a flat bed truck. The grader began to “freewheel”. Mr. Sims attempted to engage the so called “fail safe” emergency brake, but it did not stop the machine. Although there were no eye witnesses to the accident, both the police accident investigation team and OSHA concluded that he heroically steered the machine off the driveway to avoid crashing into a single family home at the bottom of the hill. Sadly, he was thrown from the grader which fell on him and crushed him to death from the hips down. As his head and torso were uninjured, plaintiff was prepared to present expert testimony from a medical examiner that the decedent would have survived for several minutes in excruciating pain.
Plaintiff brought suit against the manufacturer of the grader and the company which distributed and sold it to the decedent’s employer. Plaintiff was prepared to present evidence that the defendant provided incorrect information on how to engage the brake, failed to provide necessary maintenance information for the brake, installed the brake upside down (contrary to the instructions of the manufacturer of this component part), and placed a dangerous warning sticker next to the shift lever which encouraged the operator to place the grader in neutral before engaging the brake, which is likely to cause the grader to freewheel. Most significantly, the defendant’s representative admitted during deposition that for the cost of an additional $850 it could have equipped the grader with a brake which would have prevented the accident. Despite the fact that such a brake was required under standards adopted by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) the defendant only included it if specifically requested by a customer. Plaintiff was also prepared to present expert testimony that the defendant manufacturer violated several other SAE standards pertaining to braking and testing of brakes on earth moving machines.
The decedent was twenty-nine years old at the time of his death. He was survived by his mother and a ten year old daughter. Although he had been estranged from his daughter, prior to his death he had expressed his interest in becoming more involved in her life and seeking joint custody. Plaintiff was prepared to present expert economic testimony regarding the decedent’s future lost earnings and for “hedonic damages” (the value of the loss of his life).
The defendants sought to shift blame for the accident to the decedent’s employer. Plaintiff was prepared to offer testimony that the decedent’s employer made reasonable efforts to train him in the operation of the grader in light of the incomplete and inaccurate information provided by the defendants.
After several depositions had been taken, a mediation was scheduled at which the case settled.