Can I Sue For A Lawn Mower Injury?
Close-trimmed grass is and has long been a beloved staple of western landscaping. Though droughts have prompted some families and neighborhoods to experiment with alternatives, most Americans gravitate back to the welcoming greenness of a well-tended lawn whenever possible.
Water consumption isn’t the only problem that lawns present, however. Maintaining them can also be dangerous, and the loose safety standards of lawn mower manufacturing only increase the risks.
If you’ve been severely injured while operating a power lawn mower, you do have legal options, and The Stoddard Firm can help.
Thousands of People Are Seriously Injured by Lawn Mowers Every Year
John Hopkins University calculates that over 6,000 U.S residents are severely injured in lawn mower accidents every year. The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), on the other hand, estimates that the number of riding mower injuries alone is nearly twice that high, not counting those mild enough to be treated at home. An additional 90 people per year die in riding mower accidents, by CPSC’s count.
Reports of the individual accidents are abundant. For example, on August 9th, 2020, a Kentucky man died when his riding mower slipped into a creek while he was mowing along the bank. Two days earlier, in Massachusetts, a retired firefighter was killed when his mower tipped over. Local news described his death as a “freak accident,” even though there’s nothing freakish or unusual about a riding mower tipping over and killing its rider. Only one day earlier, in Indiana, yet another man was killed when his John Deere Zero Turn mower overturned in a ditch.
That very same day, a fourth man, also in Indiana, lost a finger to the blower paddles of his lawn mower, which had not stopped spinning when he shut down the blades.
Lawn Mower Accidents Are the Leading Cause of Amputation in Children
Approximately 13 children are treated for lawn mower injuries in U.S emergency rooms every day, according to the Center for Injury Research and Policy. Those who survive are often left with lifelong disabilities. The Amputee Coalition warns that lawn mower accidents are the single most common reason for childhood amputations, accounting for nearly half of all amputations in children under five.
Most of these accidents occur when adult family members allow children to ride in their laps on riding mowers, or when children walk behind mowers during use, and the users back up without noticing them.
This happened in Minnesota as recently as July of 2020, when a 6-year-old walked up behind his father’s mower just as he was putting it into reverse. The child suffered a severe calf laceration but is expected to make a full recovery.
Another small child in Indiana wasn’t quite as lucky. He lost all the toes on his left foot and nearly lost the leg in an almost identical accident in 2016.
Older children and teens are also vulnerable to lawn mower accidents, especially if they’re operating the equipment alone without adequate experience, or before their bodies are developed enough to use it safely.
Here in Georgia in 2018, a 13-year-old boy lost his big toe and part of his foot when he slipped on damp grass while pushing a walk-behind power mower up an incline. He recovered better than anyone could have expected, but doctors initially predicted that he would never walk normally again.
Lower extremity lacerations and amputations are the most common lawn mower injuries at any age. However, like adults, minors who use lawn mowers are also at risk for hand and arm injuries, especially while attempting to clear jams. That’s what happened to one high school junior in Indiana in 2019. He was pulling grass out of the chute when his fingers got stuck in the blades.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should not use walk-behind lawn mowers until they are 12, should not use riding mowers until 16, and should be kept inside when adults or older children are mowing. While these are good ideas, they’re not enough to overcome flawed mower designs and keep children truly safe.
Specific Regulations for Lawn Mower Safety Are Minimal, and Dangerous Products Often Make It to Market
Lawn mowers are disturbingly unregulated, considering how many fatalities and catastrophic injuries they cause, but there are a few rules associated with their production. Currently, CPSC requires all motorized walk-behind lawn mowers being sold today to be equipped with:
- A braking system that will stop the blade within three seconds if the operator lets go of the controls
- A foot shield around the blade that has been tested for strength and coverage
- Warning labels around the discharge chute advising users to keep hands and feet clear of the opening while the mower is in use
Riding mowers, in spite of being far more dangerous, are only governed by a set of voluntary standards, which manufacturers may choose to abide by in order to earn a CPSC safety approval label. To qualify, new riding mowers must have:
- Seat backs of at least 4.5” in height, to prevent the operator from falling backward
- Traction and turn stability testing
- Automatic blade shutdown if the operator leaves the driver’s seat
- Automatic blade shutdown while backing up, although manufacturers are allowed to provide an override option for this safety feature
Not all manufacturers choose to pursue CPSC safety certification, and those who do may not do an adequate job of it. In 2016, Husqvarna Consumer Outdoor Products had to recall one of its mowers due to the motor failing to shut down when the driver’s presence was no longer detected. The same year, John Deere had to do the same, because of a mower’s blade failing to shut down in reverse, without the user activating and override.
It’s important to note that a product doesn’t have to violate any particular regulation in order for the manufacturer to be held liable for the harm it causes. Every company has a general duty to take all reasonable measures to keep consumers safe, and garden supply companies are no exception. That’s why so many lawn mowers end up being recalled, despite technically meeting all regulations and guidelines.
For example, between 2012 and 2018, Hydrostatic issued a recall due to faulty brakes, Great States issued one for a mower that could start up at random, Bush Hog issued one for a mower blade that could detach from its spindle and fly across the grass, and SureFit issued one for a blade that could shatter and become shrapnel.
Any of these companies could have been liable if these flaws had injured someone before being addressed.
Many Lawn Mower Accidents Could Be Prevented with Safer Designs
Even if every lawn mower on the market perfectly adhered to every CPSC safety standard, mandatory or voluntary, mowing the lawn still wouldn’t be as safe as it can and should be. The most obvious example is the allowance for riding mower blades to remain active in reverse with an override. Most reverse-mowing overrides do not require operators to look over their shoulders in order to activate them, thereby defeating the purpose of the blade shutdown safety feature. According to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, the ability to mow backwards causes about 65 injuries a year, 70% of them in children under five.
The standards also don’t mention any measures to prevent jerking or “kicking,” even though this is one of the most frequent complaints from lawn mower users. In a riding mower without seatbelts, a violent lurch at the wrong moment can throw the operator out of the seat and under the blades.
Riding mowers are also not required to come equipped with a Roll Over Protective Structure (ROPS), even though their safety advantages have been understood for years. Also known as a roll bar, a ROPS is a solid structure that extends above the driver’s head. When combined with a seatbelt to keep the driver properly positioned, a ROPS creates a shielded space to prevent crush injuries in case of a roll over.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognizes the value of a ROPS and seatbelt combination, requiring employers and employees to use them correctly whenever mowers and tractors come equipped with them, and recommending that those not equipped with ROPS be retrofitted if possible. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also notes that ROPS are especially important for mowers that are going to be used on an incline, where the danger of rollover is much greater.
Riding mower crash fatalities often involve mowers that were not fitted with ROPS, or that had their ROPS removed or lowered into a storage position.
Pictures of the riding mower that killed the firefighter in Massachusetts, for example, do not show any kind of ROPS installed. There’s no word of whether the John Deere that overturned in Indiana had one, but John Deere Zero Turns are sold both with and without them.
A different Massachusetts man who was killed in 2017 when his riding mower hit a rock and fell over was confirmed to be mowing with his ROPS in the inactive position. Many users do this because ROPS can be difficult to unfold, easy to forget, or can get in the way in areas with low clearance.
In 2003, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) developed a type of ROPS intended to address this problem. Called the AutoROPS, it remains in the lowered position during use and immediately extends when it senses a rollover in process, much like an airbag in a car. However, in spite of successful testing and some effort at incorporating the technology into standard agricultural practices, it remains practically unheard of for home lawn mowers.
Like so many other types of tragic accidents, lawn mower deaths and disfigurements could be greatly reduced if manufacturers would simply provide consumers with the best safety features available, rather than the bare minimum they expect to get away with.
Defective Lawn Mowers Can Also Pose Serious Fire Risks
Fire hazards are some of the most common reasons for lawn mower recalls. Both electric and gas-powered mowers are common culprits, due to leaks and overheating batteries respectively.
Shivvers once had to issue two recalls in as many years for fire risk reasons, one gas-tank-related, one ignition-related. Hongkong Sun also issued a recall in 2017 for a short-circuit, Scag Power Equipment in 2015 for a fuel tank leak, and John Deere the same year because “a fuel hose might have been cut during manufacturing, posing a fire hazard.”
The technology that goes into the wiring and internal combustion of a lawn mower is not new or unique, and consumers should be able to trust manufacturers to get at least that part right.
The Stoddard Firm Has Experience Fighting for Victims of Negligent Product Design
If you’ve been seriously injured or lost a loved one in a lawn mower accident, The Stoddard Firm can help you get the compensation you need, while protecting other consumers from falling victim to the same unsafe product.
We’re experts in product liability law, and we can identify exactly what kind of corner-cutting the lawn mower’s manufacturer committed, and how it led to your injuries. We also have extensive experience helping judges and juries understand the long-term consequences of serious injuries. We’ll assess every different way your injury will affect your earning power, medical needs, and quality of life, and then fight to make sure you’re compensated for what you’ve lost as thoroughly as possible.
In addition to winning survivors the means to put their lives back together, we’re also passionate about taking the profit out of endangering consumers. By working with us and pursuing justice for your injuries, you’re helping to erase the financial advantage the manufacturer gained by not prioritizing safety features in the first place.
To get started discussing your case in a free consultation, just reach out through our online chat function, or give us a call at 678-RESULT.