Luther, Collier, Hodges & Cash, LLP – Attorneys at Law

Alabama Legal Update Mid-October 2014

She Thinks My Tractor’s Defective

Alabama Supreme Court rules in favor of tractor company on appeal of judgment in favor of Plaintiff as to negligent failure to warn claims

Yanmar America Corporation v. Randy Nichols

Alabama Supreme Court finds that tractor company did not breach a duty to warn where that duty was assumed voluntarily and tractor company did nothing to increase the risk of harm to Plaintiff through its warnings.

Plaintiff was using a Yanmar tractor to bush hog a neighbor’s property that contained a hill. The tractor did not have rollover protection and when the right front tire suddenly “took a dip” the tractor was caused to roll over. The Plaintiff suffered severe injuries including an amputated right arm and a crushed hip and leg. Plaintiff sued Yanmar America Corporation (“Yanmar”) under a negligent failure to warn theory and the jury awarded Plaintiff $900,000 which was reduced by $550,000 in consideration of a pro tanto settlement reached between Plaintiff and a co-Defendant. Yanmar appealed.

On appeal the court noted that Yanmar was not the supplier or manufacturer of the tractor and that the tractor was a “gray-market” tractor, having been first manufactured in 1971 in Japan by Yanmar Diesel Engine Co., Ltd. primarily for use in the rice paddies of Japan. The tractor was subsequently sold multiple times before finally being purchased by Autrey Nichols, the Plaintiff’s brother.

The Supreme Court of Alabama agreed with the trial court that Yanmar assumed a duty to warn Plaintiff of the safety hazards of operating gray-market tractors through its dissemination of safety notices and efforts to impede the sale of gray-market tractors. The Plaintiff argued that Yanmar’s warnings were insufficient and that Yanmar had failed to ensure that the safety warnings were disseminated in such a manner that they would actually reach potential purchasers and users. The Court noted that Yanmar could be held liable for negligent failure to warn based on its voluntary assumption of a duty only if Yanmar’s negligence increased the risk of harm to Plaintiff. On appeal, Yanmar argued that it did nothing to increase the risk of harm to Plaintiff by issuing the safety notices and working to impede the sale of the gray-market tractors. The Court agreed, holding “We conclude that [Plaintiff] failed to establish by substantial evidence that Yanmar America participated in an activity that increased his risk of harm over any risk of harm that would have existed had Yanmar America chosen not to warn potential users of the gray-market tractors in this case.”

Read the full decision.


Should Have Gone With The Dish

Court reverses trial court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of cable company on trespass claims

Jeff Webb and Belinda Webb v. Knology, Inc., and Knology of Alabama, Inc.

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals finds a genuine issue of material fact as to Plaintiff’s trespass claims in company’s installation of cable on Plaintiffs’ property and reverses summary judgment regarding same.

Plaintiffs alleged that no easements were disclosed in connection with their purchase of property on Lakeridge Drive in April of 2002. Defendant Knology subsequently buried cables down the west side of the property without the Plaintiff’s knowledge or consent. In 2010, Knology’s construction crew arrived at the property to repair a break in the cable. Plaintiffs alleged negligence, wantonness, and trespass claims against Knology in connection with the installation of the line as well as the 2010 work on their property. Plaintiffs sought, among other things, damages and an injunction preventing Knology from further tresapass on the property as well as restoration of the property. Knology moved for summary judgment and the Court entered an Order granting same. Plaintiffs appealed.

On appeal, the Plaintiffs argued that the cables existing on their property constituted a continuing trespass. The court noted that because the cable was installed in 2002 and the complaint was not filed until 2010, the trespass claim was barred. The Plaintiffs also claimed that there was evidence of willful and wanton trespass by Knology on August 25, 2010. The court noted that Knology stated in its motion for partial summary judgment that whether the cable buried beneath the west side of the property was outside a utility easement was a fact clearly in dispute. The court held that, because there was evidence that Knology replaced the cable along side of their property in an area not subject to an easement on August 25, 2010, there existed a genuine issue of material fact as to whether that action constituted a trespass. The court further found that there was a genuine issue of fact as to whether the alleged trespass was wanton, noting that, “Wantonness in a trespass action is established by the mere knowledge on the part of the defendant of his invasion of the plaintiff’s rights.” Thus, the court reversed the summary judgment in part, allowing for the trespass claim to stand, but noting that the only potential damages to be awarded on the trespass claim were nominal and punitive damages.

Read the full decision.

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