A 19-year-old employee of a Lane County grass seed farm was part of a team bringing in the grass seed crop, using specialized tractors that cut the grass and pushed it through augers to form windrows. A co-worker, whose machine became jammed, had placed an unplugging wrench on the machine before the 19 year old was sent over to help get that tractor running again. A supervisor soon arrived and sent the young man back to his own tractor. The supervisor did not realize that a wrench was on the jammed machine and started it up, causing the wrench to fly up into the air and down into the young man’s head, resulting in severe brain injury.
We brought a product liability claim in behalf of this young man, and eventually tried his case against the manufacturer of the specialized grass seed harvesting machinery because of the machine’s dangerously defective design. Most of the design deficiencies could have been taken care of by a $2.88 interlock switch, the kind that is used throughout industry and in innumerable consumer products, and indeed elsewhere on the same grass seed-harvesting machine.
The trial involved testimony by experts in mechanical engineering, product design, brain injury medicine, physical therapy, life care planning, vocational consulting, economics, farming, and human factors, in addition to numerous other witnesses. The jury found that the manufacturer was negligent and that its machine design was defective and unreasonably dangerous. It assessed the employee’s losses in the amount of $4,040,000.00. The manufacturer appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court result.