A string of recent deaths tied to riding lawn mower accidents raises questions about liability for accidents and injuries.
The Dangers of Riding Lawn Mowers
Riding lawn mower accidents occur frequently, but establishing liability for injuries can be difficult. In some cases, the manufacturer may be held accountable for the injuries if the mower is found to be defective or unsafe.
According to data from the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, approximately 20,000 people are seriously injured and another 75 people die in riding lawn mower accidents each year. Because of their power and size, riding lawn mowers pose severe injury risks. There are accident reports of cuts and puncture wounds from rocks, serious burns from gas leaks and explosions, broken and severed limbs from rotating blades, and asphyxiation from getting trapped under the mower. Fatal injuries caused by riding lawn mowers are not uncommon, especially to small children.
In 2016, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated over 86,000 adults and 4,500 children for injuries caused by lawn mowers. Riding lawn mowers cause more injuries than push mowers because they often become unsteady while mowing the lawn and roll over. Children are at greater risk for serious injuries or death caused by riding lawn mower accidents. According to to the Amputee Coalition of America, lawn mowers are the most common cause of limb amputation in children younger than 10 years of age. To reduce the risk of injuries and fatalities, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that children should be at least 12 years old before operating a push mower, and 16 years old before using a riding lawn mower.
Recently in Michigan, a two-year-old toddler was severely injured in a riding lawn mower accident. The young boy was riding in his grandfather’s lap while mowing the lawn when the mower hit a bump in the yard that caused the boy to fall off the mower. Unfortunately, the boy fell close to the mower and the rotating blades severed his leg and foot. He was rushed to a nearby hospital for emergency medical care.
Another recent accident involved a 5-year-old girl who lost her lower left leg and foot in a riding lawnmower accident in Indianapolis. While visiting her grandparents, the girl ran towards her grandfather who was cutting the grass on a large riding mower. She was behind the mower, just as it was put in reverse. The mower knocked her down and ran over her left leg before anyone even realized what was happening. The girl was airlifted to a nearby trauma center where her left foot had to be amputated.
Liability for Injuries
When riding lawn mower accidents and injuries happen, who’s liable for the damages – the mower operator or the mower manufacturer? Under product liability laws, the manufacturer can be held liable for injuries, medical costs, and other related expenses if the following can be proven:
- A design defect in the product
- A manufacturing or assembly defect in the product
- Failure of the manufacturer to provide clear and proper operating instructions, hazard warnings, or known problems with the product
In many riding lawn mower injury cases, the lack of proper safety equipment is a big issue. In 2015, a federal jury awarded an 88-year-old man $2.5 million in damages for fatal burn injuries caused by a defective mower that exploded.
There are three important safety devices that can be easily installed on riding lawn mowers to prevent injuries, but most manufacturers do not include them.
Rollover Protection System
Riding lawn mowers can easily be equipped with a roll bar and a safety lap belt. These features would keep the operator from falling off the mower and getting injured by rotating blades or crushed under the weight of the mower in a rollover accident.
No-Mow-In-Reverse Protection System
Riding mower back-over accidents are common and often fatal. In many cases, the victims are young children who get behind the mower and can’t be seen by the driver. If the driver puts the mower in reverse, the child can quickly be knocked down and run over by the mower. With a no-mow-in-reverse protection system, a switch disengages the mower blades so they stop running when the mower is put in reverse. In 2003, the lawn mower industry adopted the no-mow-in-reverse protection system, but later installed equipment that disabled it.
Kill Switch Protection System
One of the most common causes of injury and death in riding mowers is rollover accidents. When rollovers occur, the driver is often hit by the rotating blades underneath the mower. A kill switch would stop the mower blades from turning when sensors did not detect any weight on the seat, in the same way, push mower blades to stop when the operator releases a lever on the handlebar.