Roger Lucas and Jeff Rickard of Marsh, Rickard & Bryan, won a $900,000 jury verdict in Marion County, Alabama, for a client who lost his right arm and suffered serious leg and hip fractures in a tractor rollover accident. Attorney Bill Atkinson of Fite, Davis, Atkinson Guyton & Burt in Hamilton assisted Roger and Jeff during the week-long trial.
The Yanmar brand tractor the 52-year-old was operating overturned while he was mowing a sloped field on a friend’s property. At the time, the tractor was equipped with front end loader and bushhog implements. The tractor had been “purpose-built” by Yanmar in Japan with a narrow wheel width and light weight best suited for use in rice paddies in Japan and was originally sold to a buyer in Japan in 1979.
In 2005, 26 years later, the used tractor was imported by a Walker County, Alabama dealer, ARTEC, from a Japanese trading company, and was sold to our client’s brother who let our client borrow it. Such used tractors manufactured for sale only in Japan and later imported into the U.S., without authorization of the manufacturer are known as “gray market” tractors.
The claim against ARTEC for importing and selling a gray market tractor that didn’t meet U.S. safety standards (it wasn’t equipped with a rollvar or a seatbelt) settled prior to trial for $550,000. The claim against Yanmar Co. Ltd., (Yanmar of Japan) for having built the tractor without rollover protection was dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction. That’s because the manufacturer apparently never intended the product to be sold in the U.S. and had nothing to do with it being exported here as a used tractor. But the remaining claim against its wholly-owned U.S. distributor, Yanmar America, for negligent failure to warn, proceeded to trial.
The trial focused on the warnings Yanmar America issued in the U.S. about certain safety differences in Yanmar gray market tractors and tractors designed specifically for the U.S. market. Roger and Jeff proved that Yanmar America failed to properly warn not only tractor owners and operators, but also used tractor dealers, that the tractor’s narrow wheelbase made it more susceptible to overturn than nearly all similarly sized tractors being sold new in the U.S., in 1979, including Yanmar tractors made for the U.S. market. Also, Roger and Jeff proved that Yanmar America failed to specifically warn that these gray market tractors were more likely to overturn when used in typical U.S. operating environments, such as when bushhogging on a slope.
Because our client was already on disability at the time of his tractor accident, he had no lost wages claim. The plaintiff’s trial team elected not to prove at trial his medical bills, which were paid for by Medicare. The jury’s compensatory damages verdict was for permanent injury and disfigurement, and for pain and suffering and mental anguish.