Louisiana Fourth Circuit Affirms Verdict Against Tractor Manufacturer under the LPLA

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The plaintiff suffered permanently disabling injuries when she lost her footing and became pinned underneath the two rear tires of an over-the-road tractor while running alongside the vehicle in an attempt to shut off its engine. A jury found the manufacturer Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) 90% at fault, while apportioning 10% of the fault to the owner of the tractor (and the plaintiff’s husband). The Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed.

The plaintiff’s husband testified at trial that, on the morning of the accident, he drove to the Lowe’s parking lot with his wife in order to prepare his tractor for his next long-haul trip. He followed the same routine he always follows, climbing inside the tractor, starting the engine, putting the gear shift in neutral, and making sure the park brake was set. He then got out of the cab, leaving the engine idling in neutral, to complete his “walk-around inspection” and to load his gear into the tractor, when the incident occurred.  With respect to the question of “reasonably anticipated use” under the La. Products Liability Act: “the trial testimony established that Wayne Marable was performing the required pre-inspection of his tractor before leaving on his trip. As specifically instructed to do in DTNA’s driver’s manual, the engine of the tractor was running and Mr. Marable was set to check that other safety items on the outside of the cab were properly functioning. Based on this evidence presented to the jury, we cannot say that its determination that the accident and Mrs. Marable’s damages arose out of a ‘reasonably anticipated use’ of the tractor was manifestly erroneous or clearly wrong.”

Rejecting the argument that the accident was “unprecedented” and “unforeseeable” (i.e. that the tractor’s engine would spontaneously shift into gear, causing the unattended tractor to suddenly roll), the court found that “while DTNA might not have been able to foresee the tractor’s transmission ‘spontaneously’ slipping from neutral into gear, based on the warning and the instructions contained in DTNA’s driver’s manual, there was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that DTNA either knew, or should have known, that by instructing its operators to leave the cab of their vehicles, with the engine running, in order to complete the required pre-trip inspection, ‘the vehicle could move suddenly, which could result in personal injury.’ This is exactly what everyone agrees happened in this case: Mr. Marable left the cab of his tractor, with its engine idling as instructed, and as he proceeded to complete the pre-trip inspection, the tractor moved suddenly rolling over his wife and causing severe personal injuries.”

On the issue of alternative feasible design, the court found evidence “indicating that dual park brakes on each of the drive axles would have been more effective in preventing this accident than the single set of park brakes that Mr. Marable’s tractor had, which did not prevent the tractor from moving forward.”

 

Marable v. Empire Truck Sales of Louisiana, No.2016-0876 (La. App. 4th Cir. 6/23/2017), 2017 WL 2705770.

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