Court Emphasizes OSHA Standards Have No Bearing In Consumer/Manufacturer Case

Last week, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia granted summary judgment to the manufacturer of a zero-turn radius lawnmower in a case brought by the estate of an individual killed when operating the mower in a roll over incident.  The estate claimed that the mower was defectively designed without rollover protection (which was an optional safety feature that could be purchased at the time of sale when this mower was sold) and that the manufacturer failed to adequately warn of the danger.

The estate argued that OSHA standards required a rollover protection system (“ROPS”) consisting of a seatbelt and a roll bar extending over the driver’s head but the court disagreed.  The estate contended that 29 CFR 1926.1002 and 29 CFR 1928.51 applied, but the former applies only to tractors “used in construction work” and the latter applies only when pulling or carrying implements “that are designed for agriculture.”  The court explained that neither applied but “[e]ven more fundamental, however, is the fact that the OSHA standards apply to employers with respect to their relationship with their employees, not the relationship between a manufacturer and a consumer. . . . OSHA regulations are not relevant to the liability of a manufacturer to an employee of an industrial consumer.”  The court reiterated that the OSHA standards had no bearing in the case between a consumer and the manufacturer.

The court went on to find that because the estate could not offer evidence sufficient to show that the design of the product failed to conform to either a government standard, an industry standard, or the reasonable expectations of consumers, the manufacturer was entitled to summary judgment.  The court also granted summary judgment to the manufacturer on the failure to warn claim after finding that reasonable minds could not differ as to whether the specific hazards associated with the absence of an ROPS were open and obvious to the deceased given his past experience with this product.


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