Fact-checking the mainstream media (lawsuit division)

News clips reporting on large verdicts and settlements cross my desk regularly, and most do not seem on their surface to be worth blogging about. Most are terse summaries of a case’s outcome, and others do not present any indication (again, on the surface at least) that a case might have problematic aspects. The other day, however, I ran across a story in the Charleston (W.V.) Gazette describing a case in which a plaintiff had been terribly injured after a retailer sold what the reporter bluntly stated was a “defective mower.” This particular newspaper story was so one-sided that I thought there almost had to be more to it than was being reported — and I had no idea how right I was in that suspicion. This is a long post, but I hope worth readers’ while. It certainly makes me wonder how much I’m missing when I don’t go into the dockets to fact-check other seemingly run-of-the-mill cases.


Reporter Tom Searls certainly crafted a riveting lede:

Joyce Burnside had backed as far away as she could, crab walking down her hillside lawn on her hands, but her tumbling riding lawnmower and its whirling blade kept following her — 30 feet down the slope until a tree blocked her from going any further.

The blades of the out-of-control Murray mower should have stopped within five seconds after Burnside jumped from the seat. But this defective mower didn’t stop until it tore into Burnside.

According to the story, Burnside lost a substantial portion of her arm in the accident; Murray had gone out of business, so she sued Wal-Mart; Wal-Mart, according to Burnside’s attorney, “admitted they were the ones that would be responsible”; at trial, Burnside emphasized that a mower’s blades are supposed to shut off after five seconds; a federal jury in West Virginia awarded $1.8 million; Wal-Mart appealed, and then settled the case for the $1.8 million. (Tom Searls, “$1.8 million award ends mower lawsuit”, Charleston Gazette, Aug. 27). I certainly feel for the plaintiff; she’s suffered terribly. Nothing in the story indicates the system didn’t work here, right? But some details troubled me. I wrote the reporter seeking more detail; his reply is edifying.
=====================
Dear Mr. Searls,

Your recent story recounts the Ms. Burnside’s and her attorney’s tale of a defective lawn mower that didn’t shut off when it was supposed to, and caused some terrible terrible injuries when the blades struck her arm. Wal-Mart, according to the attorney, “admitted” it was liable. If that’s the full story, I don’t have much of a problem with the $1.8 million result, assuming that’s in the ballpark of what her surgeries cost; it’s the system working as it is supposed to.

But there are many facts reported in the story that aren’t consistent with that overview.

1) A West Virginia jury found the sympathetic plaintiff 25% responsible. Why? Did she do something to override the safety feature? Was she mowing drunk? Did the owner’s manual warn against using a rider mower on a steep slope, and did Burnside cause her own accident? Did Wal-Mart do something at trial to unfairly cast blame on the plaintiff? When a plaintiff has such terrible injuries and is found 25% responsible, that’s not infrequently a sign that the whole thing was their fault, but the jury feels bad for them. (Stella Liebeck was only “20% responsible” for spilling coffee on herself, for example.) But that fact, whatever it is, is left out of the story. I’d like to know whether I should be mad at Wal-Mart for unfairly casting aspersions on a victim, or at Burnside for blaming a deep pocket for her own carelessness in jumping off of a moving mower.

2) If Wal-Mart is “admitting” liability, as you quote the attorney claiming, why was it in court at all, as opposed to writing a settlement check? Had the plaintiff’s attorney sought jackpot damages and failed, but the demand for tens of millions of dollars forced Wal-Mart to litigate? Were Wal-Mart’s attorneys just wasting everyone’s time? Or did they have a real defense and didn’t admit liability after all? Hard to know, because the story doesn’t even seek a quote from the opposing lawyers, just repeating one side’s recounting of the story. Knowing attorneys who had to submit bills to Wal-Mart, I have a sense that they don’t spend money on attorneys for a three-day trial without a good reason, but I never learn what that reason is from your story.

3) How is it physically possible for someone to outrace a tumbling motor by crab-walking 30 feet before being blocked by a tree but not have time to get out of the way? One would think that a mower that has the power to “roll[] completely three times” is moving with a lot of force from gravity. Could it be, perhaps, that the mower did follow the ANSI rules, and that the entire catastrophe happened in less than five seconds?

Best,

Ted Frank
==================
Tom Searls wrote back almost immediately:

like you, i assume, i wasn’t at the may trial. wal-mart’s admission was to say if anyone was responsible it would have to be them because the company was out of business. that left them liable under wv law. i assume her jumping off could be part of the 25 percent, but can’t say for sure. if you need additional details wal-mart officials may be willing to talk about it, or perhaps the victim or her attorneys. best of luck and thanks for reading.

Wait, did the reporter just tell me that the gaps in his story require more reporting that I should be doing? I am agog at the notion. (Note that the story doesn’t even claim that Wal-Mart refused to comment.)

Here’s a photo of a Murray riding mower, albeit not the precise model. I’m still trying to envision a physically-possible scenario where (i) someone jumps off a mower; (ii) lands in its path as it begins to roll; (iii) the mower rolls over completely three times; (iv) the person has the time to “crabwalk” thirty feet before the mower gets to them, but not (v) time to get out of the way, but I’m really suffering from a failure of imagination here.

I feel for Ms. Burnside; as the story recounts, lawn-mower injuries are grotesque and painful. But the story as recounted by Mr. Searls doesn’t add up.

Fortunately, it’s a federal case; I decided to do my own reporting. There were no lawsuits involving a “Joyce Burnside” filed in West Virginia. That’s weird. But my search-engine technique is unstoppable, and I quickly found Case #2:04-cv-00494, Joyce Wood v. Murray, Inc. (S.D.W.Va.).

The case I read about in the pleadings was wildly different than the case I read about in the newspaper. Here’s Wal-Mart’s expert reports from their first and second experts; before you accuse me of being one-sided, the reason I’m not posting Burnside’s accident expert reports is because she did not submit any in the docket (and, it appears, at trial). Here is the parties’ joint proposed pretrial order. A summary:

1) There’s substantial physical evidence that Wal-Mart didn’t even sell the lawn mower. The lawn mower was a heavily reconfigured 1998 model; the plaintiff claimed that she bought it with cash from Wal-Mart in 2000. But Wal-Mart only sells brand new lawn mowers or recently-exchanged mowers (and the latter at a steep discount).

2) The mower itself had been substantially modified, with a different battery, spark-plugs, paint, as well as labels from local garages, though Burnside testified there had been no modifications. Most importantly, the seat of the lawn-mower had been modified. The dead-man’s feature of the lawn-mower shuts off the blades when pressure leaves the seat. (Testing of the mower after the accident showed that the mower did shut off within five seconds.)

3) Indeed, Burnside’s lawn was too steep to be safely mowed with the riding mower, which had extensive instructions for determining whether an area was steeper than 15 degrees. Furthermore, the lawn hadn’t been mowed in eighteen months; mud on the tires showed that the lawn was wet (also contrary to the safety instructions) which is likely what caused it to lose traction; and it was the first time Burnside had mowed that particular area of the lawn (her husband had recently died). Furthermore, one is supposed to mow on a hill in an up-and-down motion; Burnside says she had her accident making a right-turn uphill after mowing from side-to-side. Most importantly, Burnside was aware that her late husband had had two separate accidents where he overturned a riding mower trying to mow that portion of the lawn! Nevertheless, the court refused to give the jury an assumption-of-the-risk instruction.

4) Too, the physical evidence was inconsistent with the story of the mower “rolling over three times.” There was not damage to the seat. A mower won’t slide backwards unless the driver shifts to neutral or reverse gear. And, oh, by the way, the ER personnel who attended to Burnside reported that the injury occurred when she was trying to “catch” the mower as it overturned.

5) Wal-Mart moved for judgment as a matter of law; the judge denied the motion in a one-paragraph order that didn’t address any of the legal arguments made by Wal-Mart—the plaintiff didn’t even file a response.

6) Also by the way, the reporter is wrong about a trivial detail; Murray Motors declared bankruptcy, but it’s not out of business.

“Tip of the iceberg” is a cliche I dislike, but it really applies here. One fewer detail in the story, or a less perfunctory response from Searls, and I might not have given this case a second look. My first reaction was that if Wal-Mart sold a mower that doesn’t disengage when it’s supposed to, of course it was liable. Even though I have written about related topics, I’m still insufficiently cynical for it to have occurred to me that the deep pocket might have been dragged in without strong proof that it actually had sold the product in question; like almost everyone, I tend to take complainants at their word on that sort of thing.

The story of the lawsuit after a lawn-mower was used to trim hedges is an urban legend, more often used to criticize the case for legal reform than to support it. But in this case a complainant did win a small fortune after abusing a lawn mower in an extensively negligent way (if not as colorfully as the fictional hedge-trimmer), yet the story is sold to the public with barely a hint of that negligence as a tale of a “defective mower”. It is far more common for a reporter to parrot a plaintiffs’ attorney’s fictional version of a case than to be fooled by a circulating e-mail account of fictional wacky lawsuits, but somehow the media is more likely to engage in soul-searching over the latter. This is just the story of one case I managed to fact-check with the assistance of about $10 in PACER searches. How many other media reports of lawsuits would yield similar surprises?

Here’s the coda: it took me less than an hour of digging to find most of this out (including the name of the case as filed). I did not see any evidence in the piece that the reporter had even contacted the defense attorney for comment, even though the story was a lengthy feature piece, rather than a one-paragraph barebones summary. Within an hour of his e-mail to me I wrote Searls a note outlining the things he missed, and how misleading the story was as a result. My site logs showed that someone from cnpapers.net started googling me shortly after this e-mail, and a half-hour later, Searls sent me the following response:

ted, thanks. it’s good to know you resident fellas are looking out for all of us. keep up the good work and keep reading The Gazette.

(& welcome Volokh, Bainbridge readers).

Update: the plaintiff’s lawyer responds in the comments. It’s worth noting that the plaintiff’s attorney’s e-mail has at least two lies: “Wal Mart did not offer an assumption of the risk with the limited amount of instructions and did not object to the court not allowing one from the first set.” This is absolutely false on both claims. See page 9 of the motion for new trial, linked to above. Thus the jury didn’t reject the defense claims—they never considered the defense claims because the judge twisted the instructions to prevent Wal-Mart from making its defense.

35 Comments

  • Strange how such a story can get through the editorial process. Would be interesting to see if the editor would respond to an email pointing out the incompetence of the reporting.

    Funny also the response of Searls to your second email. You would think he’d defend himself just a tad. What a moron.

  • Oh wait, I just got it! He was denigrating you because you are a simple blogger with no journalistic expertise. He is frightened at the fact that anyone with an internet connection can do what he does (and much better btw), pats you on the head like a good little boy, and coaxes you back to the lunatic fringe hole in the wall where you came from.

    And he wrote the “you fellas” remark AFTER he googled you! What an even bigger idiot.

  • “Strange how such a story can get through the editorial process. Would be interesting to see if the editor would respond to an email pointing out the incompetence of the reporting.”

    Actually, based on my experience with newspapers, this is basically par for the course.

    That is, on almost any subject I actually know something about, the newspaper is, far more often than not, wrong to the point of just outright silliness.

    Why should I trust them on issues I DON’T know much about? Oh yeah, I shouldn’t. And I don’t.

  • This is pretty bad, even by MSM standards. Most editors usually (grudgingly) demand the “bad guys”‘ side of things. But parroting the plaintiff’s press release almost word-for-word is common in the media. It is the result of 1) lazy reporting and 2) journalistic bias toward the supposed “little guy”. Sometimes there are deadline pressures that explain 1), but that’s when you at least throw in that “Wal-Mart could not be contacted in time for this story.”

  • Good show.

    One of the many reasons I don’t much participate in the mainstream media. I use it as a prompt to start doing research on an interesting subject, not an end in itself.

  • Ted,
    Shame on you for ripping that reporter’s story up with little things like facts! I’m willing to bet that story was designed to play to a specific audience. Charleston is a pretty heavy union town and guess who’s their favorite bad guy these days? The article was probably in the “Good News” section of the paper.

  • great work as always. I wish for the day that reporters will be so thorough.

  • But Franks seems to be criticizing the newspaper report for only getting ½ of the story so, in response, Frank purports to get the other ½. First of all, I don’t know what fantasy world Ted
    Frank lives in if he thinks that a defendant’s expert report gives an accurate, unbiased version of reality.
    But if Frank is at all concerned with reality, why didn’t he try to contact the plaintiff’s attorney to get a response to the lop-sided assertions in the defendant’s expert’s reports? Frank talks about how easy it was to do a pacer search for only $10 and uncover all of the infto from the defense side. Well it was even easier to send an e-mail to the plaintiff’s attorney (free) and here is what he responded. He gave me permission to quote so I am going to intersperse his e-mail with some specific assertions Frank makes:
    1) There’s substantial physical evidence that Wal-Mart didn’t even sell the lawn mower.
    RESPONSE: The mower was purchased from Wal mart because we had a sales receipt.

    2) The mower itself had been substantially modified, with a different battery, spark-plugs, paint, as well as labels from local garages, though Burnside testified there had been no modifications.
    RESPONSE:As far as any alterations to the mower the defendant’s expert said that if there were any, such as the question about the seat, they didn’t cause or contribute to the accident.

    3) Indeed, Burnside’s lawn was too steep to be safely mowed with the riding mower, which had extensive instructions for determining whether an area was steeper than 15 degrees.
    RESPONSE: Our expert testified and measured the area where this happened it it was I believe 11 degrees which is in the safe range to mow.

    Furthermore, one is supposed to mow on a hill in an up-and-down motion; Burnside says she had her accident making a right-turn uphill after mowing from side-to-side.
    RESPONSE: This rollover occured while she was headed up hill, which is the way the instructions say to mow, after she made a turn. In this case the mower started sliding backwards and felt like it was going to turn over.

    Most importantly, Burnside was aware that her late husband had had two separate accidents where he overturned a riding mower trying to mow that portion of the lawn!
    RESPONSE: He had rolled a different mower(which is why they bought this one) but on another piece of the property. There had been no previous problems with any mower on the piece of property where the accident happened.

    Nevertheless, the court refused to give the jury an assumption-of-the-risk instruction.
    RESPONSE:We all offered a bunch of instructions(Wal mart offered an assumption of the risk) and the Court reviewed them and told us we could offer only a limited number of instructions and Wal Mart did not offer an assumption of the risk with the limited iamount of instructions and did not object to the court not allowing one from the first set.

    4) Too, the physical evidence was inconsistent with the story of the mower “rolling over three times.”
    RESPONSE: That is what an eye-witness testified to.
    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
    Amazing what you can find out from an e-mail.

    And thank god that we have juries instead of corporate propagandists deciding what is reality.

  • I’ll give ten-to-one odds that not even 10% of reporters (or their editors) covering lawsuits even know what PACER is – yet alone how to use it. Any takers?

    If there are no takers, then what does that say about the MSM’s coverage of legal affairs? Is it reliable? Trustworthy?

  • Did you just say that the e-mail you got from the plaintiff’s attorney represented reality, and not a propagandist?

    Go directly to jail, do not collect $200.

    Wow.

  • Uhhh… td… you may want to consider that the newspaper already covered the facts from the plaintiff’s perspective.

  • From the northern side of the USA/Canada border – the newspaper article does appear to be yet another example of i naccurate,biased, and sloppy reporting.
    Of greater moment: why did Wal-Mart settle? What has happened to the onus of proof. Did the Plaintiff not have the onus of proving (1) the mower was purchased from Wal-Mart (2)that there had been no subsequent material modifications to the machine that adversly
    effected its performance and safety features (3) that the Plaintiff’s operation was not the causa causans of the accident?
    Cynically, I suspect that the reason that Wal-Mart settled was because it knew that the matter would be heard before a jury to which sympathy was a stronger motivator than legal principles, and cost would not be awarded to it for its successful defence.

  • Plaintiff’s expert was Hugh Grow. Plaintiff likely did not file an expert report with the court as he is not usually required to in Fed. Ct.

    Ray Elmy (defense expert) is very good, even though he testifies only for defendants. The fact that Elmy was a defense expert and the verdict came down for plaintiff tells me the case is stronger than this post lets on.

  • Appears to me that you’re engaged in the same sort of slippery tricks that you accuse the MSM of using.

    I doubt the jury found that “Stella Liebeck was only ‘20% responsible’ for spilling coffee on herself.” The jury found that she was only 20% responsible for the third degree burns to her crotch — and the thousands of dollars of medical expenses incurred as a result.

  • nice overreaction td.

    neither the original post nor any of the commenters have said that the jury award was wrong. the point is that the article is sloppy and one-sided — it also states “Murray had gone out of business but WalMart continued to sell the defective product” — there is no indication that this product was defective, certainly not that there was a recall or anything before purchase.

    I’m playing through the scene in my mind and five seconds is a long time, plenty long enough for the mower to have rolled over several times — it probably happened in the span of about three seconds, so the design and seat would not be at fault at all.

    but again, this post wasn’t about fault, it was about sloppy reporting, and I think it was on the mark.

  • So let me get this right. WalMart is paying $1.8 million in a product liability case in which they did not even sell the product?

  • Ted,
    The article was lacking, but I think your post was a passive aggressive method of faulting the outcome.

  • With the lack of any type of investigation into this story, newspapers should not have to wonder why their readership has been steadily declining.

    Your very basic investigation returned with, if I am being nice, what I would call inaccuracies in the original newspaper column.

    Keep up the good work.

  • The problem is simply that the report was a lengthy report on a controversy that contained no evidence to suggest that the reporter even understood what the controversy was about. Whether he happened to get it wrong or happened to get it right, neither is to his credit. He failed in the most basic aspects of reporting, which is to figure out what the story was about and report that.

    Instead, he reported what one side said as if it was fact.

  • Any rolling object has angular momentum, which momentum comes from a torque. Whether the slope is 16 degress or worse 11 degrees, the incline is insufficcent to torque the machine once the rider is off the mower. (The weight of the rider gives the machine a high center of gravity.) Once the machine tips over, the blade would be opposite the ridder, thus the claim of jumping off the machine and it rolling more tham once.

    Obviously the plaintif used her dominent right hand to hold down the seat while she cleared the exit port of the machine.

    Everybody should be jailed at least one weekend for talking about the spark plug.

  • Thanks to Walter for posting this while I was on the road.

    WN: The spark plugs are relevant because they directly contradict the claim of the plaintiff that the lawn mower was purchased new in 2000 at Wal-Mart and used a total of sixteen times. I don’t think the non-standard spark-plugs caused the accident.

    TD/TE/[email protected] criticizes me for not calling the plaintiff’s attorney. But I already had the plaintiff’s attorney’s story in front of me in a three-web-page newspaper article. I acknowledge that I only did an hour of research on this story. But the point of my post is that I found out more about the case between 9:30 and 10:30 pm (including every substantive document about the evidence in the case on the docket) than the reporter did in the course of one-sided reporting. Writing about cases on Overlawyered is a hobby. If I get a chance later this week, I’ll contact attorneys to try to dig up what commenter Mr. Owen says is the plaintiff expert report. The transcript is not available on-line except to court personnel, but I don’t need the transcript to determine that there was more to the story than was reported. TD/TE/[email protected] presumably sent the plaintiffs’ attorney my entire post, rather than just the selected parts he quoted in his posted comment. The fact that the attorney didn’t respond to those parts (and instead responded to straw-man arguments) is perhaps telling.

    If there was a plaintiff’s expert, it means there was a battle of the experts on some pretty straightforward questions of physics, engineering, trigonometry and fact (does Wal-Mart sell two-year-old used mowers?) I don’t know which set of experts is correct (though I certainly have my suspicions)—but clearly, one of the experts was lying. It’s math, not a judgment call, whether ground slopes 11 or 17 degrees. It’s a question of basic physics whether the plaintiff’s story is even possible. If a trial is truly a truth-seeking function, rather than a reality-tv-style game show that awards millions of dollars to the most sympathetic side, why not have a neutral expert appointed to give the truth? If nothing else, the existence of a neutral expert would have deterred a lying expert from lying, be it the plaintiff expert or the Wal-Mart expert (or both).

    I don’t know why Wal-Mart settled. The settlement did save them hundreds of thousands dollars in pre- and post-judgment interest; a victory on appeal would have only gotten them a new trial. Commenter Jack King may have unwittingly reproduced the precise reasoning used.

    Stella Liebeck was injured when she spilled coffee on herself. The jury found that she was only 20% responsible for injuries caused by her spilling coffee on herself. But I’ve discussed the McDonald’s coffee case elsewhere, and it’s not worth rehashing here.

  • Neutral expert? Isn’t that kind of like “jumbo shrimp”?

    Look, I do not know anything about the case, but I do know that Hugh Grow is an expert in mower design. I did not say there was an expert report, but simply assumed there was, since Grow was named as plaintiff’s expert. Like I said above, Elmy is very good, and I think he was (is) actually employed by Murray, so he likely had first hand knowledge of the design of the mower at issue. For plaintiffs to hit such a big verdict with Elmy as one of the defense experts tells me that there was more to the case than is let on in the original post.

  • Fed. R. Evid. 706 permits the appointment of neutral experts.

    Nothing in the docket let me know that Grow was an expert; I presume your supposition is correct that he provided expert testimony.

    But plaintiffs get big verdicts all the time without having a legitimate case, especially when they’re badly injured. That’s not to say that Burnside didn’t have a legitimate case. I don’t know. But my post did nothing other than recount what was in the readily-available docket that wasn’t in the newspaper account. I linked to the pre-trial report, so readers can see for themselves precisely what the plaintiffs said their argument was, so I’m not sure what you think I omitted.

  • Well, your post heavily implies that the case was without merit and it does so by casting aspersions on plaintiff’s testimony and relying on defendant’s expert reports as the truth.

    In other words, you are acting as a finder of fact in weighing the testimony in an effort to find the real truth. Kind of like a jury, accept you are too smart to be manipulated by evil money hungry trial lawyers.

    Like I said (and like you said) I do not know the case, but I would hesitate be so dismissive of it on the information you provided.

    As for the fact that shoddy journalism is at play here, are you surprised? The reporter probably got a call from the plaintiff’s lawyer after the verdict. If he was a half decent reporter, I imagine he called the Wal-Mart attorneys, and would be willing to bet that they had “no comment.” Thus, your one sided story.

    Asking a reporter to get on pacer, which he would have to have a password to do, read legal mumbo jumbo, and then write a less biased article assumes the fact that the reporter would know what to look for, and what he was talking about from a legal standpoint.

  • 1) The post recounts facts omitted from the story. Those facts certainly have implications and you seem to be upset by those implications, but I haven’t made any ultimate findings other than that the full story is substantially more complex than what was reported. Again, you don’t identify anything I left out.

    2) Often reporters do call defense attorneys and get a no-comment. That’s unfortunate when it happens, because it results in one-sided stories, but at least the reporter is trying for balance. The reporter didn’t even try here. It’s as likely laziness as it is bias, but can either way be faulted.

    3) You seem to indicate that I’m expecting too much when I ask that a reporter who is reporting on legal subjects know what he or she is talking about rather than just be a press-agent for a plaintiff’s attorney. That’s certainly a position one can take, but one that has implications of its own.

    4) Someone lied in this case. I don’t know whether it was the plaintiff or the defense experts, but there are surely better ways of finding out than a swearing contest. That point remains. If there had been a Rule 706 expert appointed, there would be a lot less speculation.

  • On reviewing some of the actual documents, it would certainly appear that the prosecution lawyer is quite simply LYING in at least one thing (and probably more than one):

    “Nevertheless, the court refused to give the jury an assumption-of-the-risk instruction.
    RESPONSE:We all offered a bunch of instructions(Wal mart offered an assumption of the risk) and the Court reviewed them and told us we could offer only a limited number of instructions and Wal Mart did not offer an assumption of the risk with the limited iamount of instructions and did not object to the court not allowing one from the first set.”

    Apparently, the “assumption of risk” instruction WAS one of the 4 (go read the actual documents), and the judge STILL rejected it. Oh yeah, “Amazing what you can find out from an e-mail.” [rolleyes]

    Amazing, yeah, if you simply assume one side or the other is the one telling the truth! Just like the reporter in this case…

    Also, I’m not finding ANY mention of a rceipt anywhere, either…

  • Also, I’m not finding ANY mention of a rceipt anywhere, either…

    Just a bit troubling, don’t you think, wco and td? Aren’t we supposed to take the approach that if said receipt isn’t entered into evidence, it doesn’t exist? Is it in the list of evidence presented to the court? If not, sorry, but the lawyer has no legal ground to stand on in that claim. It’s either an outright lie or hearsay.

    Even I, not a lawyer, can figure that out!

  • Here’s the exhibit list.

    Deoxy and MF: a receipt and credit card bill was entered as Exhibits 11 and 13. While this contradicts deposition testimony that the mower was purchased for cash, one can certainly forgive a failure of memory on that point—though it remains curious how a 1998 mower with lots of use got purchased in 2000 at Wal-Mart. (Perhaps a different mower was purchased at Wal-Mart and the plaintiff’s late husband decided to return it and get a used mower?)

    It would be interesting to know whether these exhibits were sandbagged (they sure aren’t on the pretrial list), and if so, why. But that’s a job for a real reporter: like I said, the real story here is much more interesting than what was reported.

  • Voir Dire question #12 from the Plaintiff’s attorney:

    How many of you have gotten flyers from CALA or the Chamber of Commerce stating Kanawha County or West Virginia are judicial hell holes?

    hahahaha

    My own questions: why wasn’t this product immediately pulled from every retail store on the planet since it is defect in design (according to the jurors in this judicial hellhole)?
    Why wasn’t Murray given any responsibility whatsoever, even though they designed this deathrap on wheels? Shouldn’t the liability assignation have gone perhaps, like this: Murray 40%, Walm-Mart 40%, plaintiff 20%? For the record, I realize that Murray wasn’t a party to this case, but that doesn’t mean they have no blame.

  • Thanks for the update, Ted.

    Yes, questions abound, but at least the existenc of the receipt is no longer debatable.

  • Yes the sparkplug change indicates that the machine was used more used than indicated by the plaintif. But whether the machine was used a little or lot has nothing to do with its rolling over. It could not have rolled over three times. The incline has to 90 degrees less the angle of elevation of the center of gravity for that to happen. Looking at the picture the center of gravity would be just above the motor. Thus the incline needs to be at least 45 degrees or 100%.

    I was appalled that the expert testimony did not consider the impossibity of the event happening as described by the plaintif.

    The rule should be that any object built in accordance with objective standards should be immune from suits. My understanding is that the law does not have this rule.

    The judge erred because he thinks that a jury, through its tests of credibility, can find an impossible statement to be true.

  • The incline has to 90 degrees less the angle of elevation of the center of gravity for that to happen. Looking at the picture the center of gravity would be just above the motor. Thus the incline needs to be at least 45 degrees or 100%.

    Not necessarily. If the tractor is traveling uphill, the drive wheels exert a reaction torque in addition to that any from gravity. On a wet grassy slope, the drive wheels could be slipping, and if they suddenly gained traction, it’s theoretically possible to create the necessary torque, in the same manner that a motorcyclist double clutches to pull a wheelie.

    This is not to say I believe the power to weight ratio of the tractor is sufficient for this to happen on the slope in question, but you can’t ignore this factor in your evaluation of the physics involved.

  • Good Grief! The torque of the wheel is around the axil. It has nothing to do with the torque to turn the machine over. I suspect that the 15% warning comes from the machine sliding. If you want to tip over a sleeping cowm you push on its side. Th torque is the product of the force of your push times the distance to the ground and the rotation would be around the line on the ground from its back legs of the cow to its front. If you simply puu back on a cow’s leg it will just fall down and not tip over. The story of the lawnmover attacking the lady is better suited for nthe Sci-Fi channel than for a court.

  • William Nuesslein,

    While you make a good general point, as dweeb already pointed out, you STRONGLY overstate your case. The simple example (again, already given) of a motorcycle doing a wheelie proves you WRONG.

    Things CAN achieve a position where a roll is possible, even on inclines that you wouldn’t think they could. Stupidly simple example: the lawnmower in question could quite easily roll on a FLAT SURFACE… if it got going fast enough and hit a low-lying objcet that stopped it suddenly. Any time you have force acting on an object that is not DIRECTLY against the centr of gravity, you will have a rotational force, and if that force is large enough to overcome friction and gravity (among other things), you will get rotation. A 45 degree angle could cause a roll BY ITSELF, but lesser angles could still have rolls occur on them.

    (It’s actually possible to roll UPHILL, you know…)

    Of course, all of this adds strength to the defense’s position that there was more to this than the witnesses are saying…

  • Since the main subject seems to have been sloppy reporting, I think this jury has applied a Conviction against the reporter, GAWD can’t even get the Parties names correct?

    As to operational effects on a slope, lets call it 11-17 degree variable slope, covered with 18″ tall grass/vegetation. And the PL said there was no problem with the cut material being ejected, as this grass was as well wet to some degree?

    I call BS on that line right there. I’ve cut way too much even out here in the desert that was 12″ or taller, and it slows you down, WAY down, also it will plug up any mower from time to time while mowing!

    Why was she crabing down the hill? Because she more than likely dove off the mower, rolled onece and instead of moving out of the way, she indeed did just like she told the medical folks, TRIED TO CATCH IT!

    I would never try to catch even one of my quads heading for a rollover on a hill yet alone a machine with a fast moving blade swirlling around!

    The Jury should have suggested told her to take a lawnmower safty course and prove whe was even capable to operate the daaumed thing, which at this point is proven to be that she was clearly outta her league attempting to deal with such a sofisticated machine!

    I doubt I wil live long enough to understand how a company in the business of selling things to people could be dregged into a product liability suit when the products manufacture was not even filed against!???