Lawnmower manufacturer Briggs & Stratton Power Products Group LLC has brought Bemis Manufacturing Co., a gas cap maker, into litigation over a 2013 accident in which a riding mower manufactured for Sears exploded, leaving a Pennsylvania man with severe burns and necessitating a partial leg amputation. The manufacturer filed a third-party complaint claiming Bemis should be responsible if Briggs is found liable in Daniel Fassett’s suit because alleged pressurization in the mower’s gas tank would have been caused by a defective gas cap that wasn’t venting properly. The new complaint said;

The Kelch gas cap was expected to and did reach users and consumers, including Daniel Fassett, without substantial change in the condition in which it was sold. If the plaintiffs’ injuries and damages were sustained as a result of gasoline spraying from the mower’s allegedly swollen gas tank, the gas cap manufactured and sold by the third-party defendant created a risk of harm to users and consumers, including Daniel Fassett.

Fassett was injured in May 2013 after he noticed a sputtering in his Sears Craftsman ZT 7000 zero-turn rear-engine riding mower. His suit named Sears, along with Briggs and engine manufacturer Kohler Co. It’s alleged in his complaint that the Pennsylvania man drove the mower into his garage, turned it off and lifted the seat, noticing that the fuel tank had expanded. He then began turning the gas cap, which prompted an eruption of fuel that doused him and the mower. Both Fassett and the mower caught fire, and he ran into the yard, where he started rolling in the grass to extinguish the flames.

Fassett was airlifted to a hospital and was hospitalized for more than two months before being transferred to a rehab hospital for nearly another month. Fassett lost his right leg below the knee and needed multiple skin grafts. Sears and Kohler both filed motions to dismiss. Both companies took aim at the claim for punitive damages. They contended that Fassett had failed to show that the companies had acted recklessly when putting the product on the market.

But U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann ruled in August that Fassett had plausibly alleged that Sears should have been aware of the risks of the mower and that it contained a crucial manufacturing defect, holding that the retailer must face strict liability claims and the prospect of punitive damages. Kohler also sought to have strict liability claims against the company thrown out, along with negligence and breach of warranty claims. But the judge concluded that the allegations that the lawnmower was prone to exploding and catching fire were enough to sustain all three claims. The judge did, however, throw out claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress brought by Fassett’s wife against both companies. He said that because she arrived at the scene after the accident had already occurred, the claims were barred by Pennsylvania Supreme Court precedent.

The third-party complaint adds Bemis to the suit, alleging that any findings of liability against Briggs are actually due to the gas cap maker’s negligent design and manufacturing. The complaint has negligence and strict liability claims. It’s alleged that Bemis didn’t adequately test the caps and sold them in a defective condition. Fassett is represented by Matthew Casey of Ross Feller Casey LLP. The case is in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.


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