Oregon’s Highest Court Instructs Intermediate Appellate Court To Review Jury Verdict for Manufacturer of Riding Lawnmower

Following an accident in which a father unsuspectingly backed a riding lawnmower over his daughter, the family brought suit against the lawnmower manufacturer alleging that the mower was defective and unreasonably dangerous because the mower provided a mechanism for overriding a safety shutoff feature that otherwise would have stopped the cutting blades when going in reverse, the button for overriding the automatic shutoff was on the dashboard, and there were no warnings or instructions addressing the proper operation of the mower in reverse.  An Oregon jury found for the manufacturer on all claims.  On reviewing the family’s ten alleged assignments of error, the Court of Appeals rejected the only assignment of error believed to pertain to the element of causation, and declined to consider the remaining nine assignments of error because Oregon law prevented the reversal of a trial court judgment “except for error substantially affecting the rights of a party.”  The Court of Appeals explained that it could not determine whether the asserted errors affected the jury’s verdict based on the simplicity of the jury form used by the trial court.  In a lengthy opinion issued earlier today, the Supreme Court of Oregon reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded for the court to consider each of the other nine assignments of error on the grounds that the Court of Appeals applied the incorrect standard to determine whether it should review the assignments of error raising instructional and evidentiary errors.

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