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Adair County Jury Awards Local Farmer $1.458 Million in Combine Accident; Deere & Co., 60% at Fault

Plaintiff Compensated in Product Liability Suit
On July 29, 2009, a local farmer (plaintiff) was operating a model 7720 John Deere combine manufactured in 1980 when the header of the combine plugged with crop material.  The plaintiff utilized the electric clutch switch to disengage the electromagnetic clutch which turned off the power to the header.  While clearing the material from the header, the header started up and the cross augur pulled the plaintiff by his legs into the header where he was trapped.  He was able to get the header to stop by placing his pliers into the cutter bar.  He was trapped for approximately 2 hours until he was rescued.

The plaintiff contended that the combine was defective because it was sold with a push pull electric clutch switch that would operate intermittently allowing the header to come on even though the switch was in the off position.  The plaintiff also contended that the combine was defective because it did not have a seat switch safety interlock system to shut the header down if the operator left the seat for more than five seconds.  Finally, the plaintiff contended that the combine was defective because the on-product warning was ambiguous in advising the operator to turn off all engine and/or motor power before clearing obstructions from the header.  The plaintiff contended that he turned off the motor power when he disengaged the electric clutch switch.

The defendant denied that the combine was defective.  The defendant contended that the electromagnetic clutch was at the end of its service life and that as a result the electromagnetic clutch failed and was unable to process the crop into the header.  As a result, the header stopped.  The defendant contended that the plaintiff failed to turn off the electric clutch switch and that when he cleared some of the crop material, that the electromagnetic clutch was able to have enough power to start up and pulled Mr. Phelps into the cross augur.  Once the plaintiff was trapped in the cross augur, then the electromagnetic clutch started slipping again.  The defendant denied that the warning was ambiguous.  The defendant also contended that the plaintiff violated the instructions in the operator’s manual which instructed the operator to turn off the engine and disengage the separator before clearing obstructions from the header and that had the plaintiff followed the instructions in the operator’s manual, the injury would not have happened. The plaintiff admitted that he had not read the instructions in the operator’s manual.

Plaintiffs’ experts: Herman P. Christopherson, Minneapolis, Minnesota (engineer) and Gregory Della Rocca, MD, Columbia, Missouri (orthopedic surgeon)
Defendant’s Experts:  Michael Senneff, Bettendorf, Iowa (engineer)

 

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Product Liability

Circuit Court of Adair County

$1.458 million (Fault assessed: 60% Deere & Co. and 40% Plaintiff)

March 1, 2013

Paul Redfearn (Independence) Michael Wallis (Independence) Jay Benson (Kirksville) Caleb Jones (Columbia)

Peter Daniel and Chad Blomberg, Lathrop & Gage (Kansas City)