The beginning of summer marks the start of many outdoor activities.  Some that come to mind involve water, sun and fun.  However, along with all the fun that summer brings with it, many outdoor chores must also not be forgotten. The smell of fresh cut lawns in the summer is almost as prevalent as the smell of outdoor grills.  Unfortunately, the increased use of lawn mowers inevitably increases the number of accidents associated with the machines. Lawn mowers are powerful machines capable of severely injuring users and bystanders alike. There is no way to completely eliminate the hazards associated with a lawn mower. Even though many advances have made lawnmowers safer, there is still much more that can be done.

In 2010, 253,000 people were injured and treated for lawnmower related injuries.  That is large number, but what is more alarming is that lawnmower injuries are not decreasing, but tend to show signs of increasing in recent years. Common injuries include cuts, amputations, impalement, burns, eye injuries, and countless other forms of traumatic injuries.  Advances in mower safety technology have undoubtedly saved lives and prevented injuries.  Many of these advances can be attributed to litigation.

Lawyers in our firm have handled cases involving mowers that lacked “kill switches” and “mow-in-reverse” functions.  Riding mowers now come standard with both functions, largely due to successful litigation in the area. One safety concern that manufacturers continue to ignore in the riding lawnmower section is loss of steering control rollover hazards. Successful litigation in the area by Plaintiff’s lawyers will likely be the catalyst for remedying this largely ignored hazard.

According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), an average of 90 deaths per year can be attributed to riding mowers during 2007-2009. According to the CPSC, the common pattern amongst these reported fatalities is loss of steering control of the mower, bucking the occupant off the machine, and rollover.  Many of these injuries and deaths could have been prevented if the lawn tractor was equipped with proper rollover protective structures (ROPS). As you may know, ROPS systems are little more than roll bars and seatbelts.

The ROPS systems keep the occupant secured if a machine rolls over and protects against being trapped under the weight of the machine, or run over by the rotating blades. ROPS is standard on larger agricultural and industrial tractors, and has been for years. The standardization of ROPS on larger tractors has decreased the amount of rollover deaths amongst operators. Our firm’s case of Spivey vs. Kubato was directly responsible for that development. However, this necessary safety equipment is not mandatory on smaller riding lawn mowers.

A rollover can occur on any riding lawn mower, but these accidents are particularly prevalent amongst the popular “zero-turn” category of riding mowers.  Most of the zero-turn riding mowers are driven and steered by large rear tires.  The front tires are typically smaller, and serve no more function than acting as a pivoting caster.  Zero turn mowers are wildly popular due to the efficiency, speed, and precision with which they can turn and maneuver.  However, like most things in life, these positive qualities come with certain drawbacks. One such drawback that these mowers suffer from is lack of steering on inclines. Due to the design of the rear tire steering system, if a turn is attempted while either going up or down an incline, the machines tend to slide uncontrollably.

Alarmingly, it does not take a steep incline for the machines to exhibit this behavior.  In fact, slopes as slight as 10 to 15 degrees have been shown to cause operators to lose most steering control.  Rollovers are just one of many hazards that may come into play as a lawnmower slides uncontrollably.  Many injuries and deaths are a result of occupants losing steering control of the zero-turn mowers and sliding into water and drowning.

Lawn mowers are dangerous machines and must be used with caution. Safety advances have certainly made most lawnmowers safer today than ever before; however, more safety features are necessary. The statistics are clear that nearly all lawn mower deaths are attributable to riding lawn mower rollovers. Unfortunately, statistics alone rarely yield results or change.  With zero-turn mowers gaining popularity, a growing trend of riding-lawnmower deaths is likely, if not probable. ROPS must become standard equipment on all riding lawnmowers to slow this probable trend.  If you need more information on this subject, contact Evan Allen, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury/Product Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Evan.Allen@beasleyallen.com.

Sources: www.consumerreports.org; cpsc.gov; and orthoinfo.aaos.org

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