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Halsey v. Agco Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky

October 20, 2017

SCOTT HALSEY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
AGCO CORPORATION, et al., , Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Joseph M. Hood Senior U.S. District Judge

         This matter is before the Court upon the parties' Motions for Summary Judgment, the responses thereto, and the replies made in further support thereof [DE 78, 125; 97, 112, 120; 107, 115, 117, 130, 134].[1] Ultimately, Plaintiffs lack evidence necessary to demonstrate that Defendants' product design or other negligence was the causation of Scotty Halsey's injury or that any warranty has been breached. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiffs' claims will be dismissed.

         I.

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A party asserting that a fact cannot be . . . genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including . . . affidavits. . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). A genuine dispute of material fact exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The Court views all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party in making this determination. Livingston Christian Sch. v. Genoa Charter Twp., 858 F.3d 996, 1001 (6th Cir. 2017)

         II.

         There is no dispute that Scotty Halsey purchased a new Massey Ferguson 4600 tractor designed and manufactured by AGCO Corporation and outfitted with tires designed and manufactured by Titan Tire Corporation on July 27, 2015. Further, there is no real dispute that he sustained the injuries of which he complains while operating that tractor, which rolled over and at which time he struck his arm on the window. Rather, the Court examines the evidence for proof which demonstrates that it is probable - more likely than not - that some action or inaction in design or manufacture of or the failure to warn concerning the tire and tractor on the part of Defendants caused the roll over and, thus, his injury. As explained below, the Court concludes that it does not.

         “‘Courts have distinguished three types of product defect: (1) manufacturing defects or deviations from the product's design that create unreasonable risks of harm; (2) design defects or unreasonable risks of harm inherent in the product's design; and (3) warning defects or unreasonable risks of harm that could have been reduced or avoided by the provisions of reasonable instructions or warnings.'” Jarrett v. Duro-Med Indus., No. CIV.A. 05-102-JBC, 2008 WL 89932, at *3 (E.D. Ky. Jan. 8, 2008) (quoting Edwards v. Hop Sin, Inc., 140 S.W.3d 13, 15 (Ky. Ct. App. 2003)). Nonetheless, as in any negligence case, Plaintiffs must demonstrate duty, breach, causation, and injury. See Jones v. Hutchinson Mfg., Inc., 502 S.W.2d 66, 69-70 (Ky. 1973) (breach, causation, and injury analyses are the same under a negligence theory in a products liability case as they are under a strict liability theory, recognizing that strict liability reduces a plaintiff's burden of proof and the burden is higher to sustain a negligence claim with respect to an allegedly defective product). Frequently, expert testimony is required in negligence cases in which plaintiffs allege a product defect. See Caniff v. CSX Transp. Inc., 438 S.W.3d 368, 374 (Ky. 2014) (“Experts are often required in complex cases in which a jury will not understand, through common knowledge or experience, the intricacies involved in the negligence claim.”).

         In the instant matter, Plaintiffs allege that the tractor's tire was somehow insufficient to perform the types of functions that Halsey was performing with the tractor under the circumstances which existed at the time of the purported tire and rim failure and that this failure caused the tractor to rollover and, ultimately, Mr. Halsey's injuries. In their Complaint, they complain that the tractor was equipped with tires that were “underrated and inadequate for the loads typically carried by them.” [DE 1-2, ¶26.] In his testimony, Halsey claimed that, because of this, the “tire blew. Rim - I think that the rim, where the tire - something gave way, it dropped, deflated.” [Depo. of Scotty Halsey, DE 58-9 at 97.]

         According to the relevant Titan Specification Sheet, the Titan tires on Halsey's tractor have a maximum load capacity of 1, 870 lbs. each. The tractor itself has a maximum weight capacity for the front axle of 7, 496 lbs. The tractor itself weighed 6, 944 lbs., the MF 900X Loader Model 921 with which it was equipped weighed 961.215 lbs., and the 4.5' by 5' roll of hay that Halsey was hauling on the tractor at the time of the rollover weighed an estimated 1, 200 lbs. Further, while the MF 4600 Owner's Manual warns that use of the machine may present “imminently hazardous situations that, if not avoided, will result in DEATH OR VERY SERIOUS INJURY” and provides a general warning against driving on slopes, it provides no information warning the specific concerns about various grades of inclines or the maximum load capacity of the tractor when equipped with the tires in question. Nor does it warn against the danger of rollover.

         Scotty Halsey's testimony that he “think[s]” something happened with the rim or the tire prior to the rollover is not evidence of a defect in design or advice which ultimately caused the rollover under the circumstances and, then, his injuries. Nor is it enough when coupled with the conclusory assertion that the tires were underrated and inadequate for the loads typically carried by the tractor or the specific load on the day in question that can be calculated from the figures provided in the MF 4600 Owner's Manual using simple mathematics. Rather, there must be specific support for the Halsey's theory that the tractor rolled over because its tires were underrated and for the load they and the tractor bore on the day of his injuries. That material evidence is entirely lacking and cannot be inferred from the evidence presented in support of Plaintiffs' claims.

In design defect cases, a product is considered defective only when “it is made according to an unreasonably dangerous design.” Estate of Bigham v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 462 F.Supp.2d. 766, 771 (E.D.Ky. 2006) (quoting Jones v. Hutchison Mfg., Inc., 502 S.W.2d 66, 69 (Ky. 1973)); see also Montgomery Elevator Co. v. McCollough by McCollough, 676 S.W.2d 776, 780 (Ky. 1984) (plaintiff must prove the product was manufactured in “a defective condition unreasonably dangerous.”). Under the “unreasonably dangerous” analysis, the manufacturer is presumed to know the qualities, characteristics, and actual condition of his product at the time he sells it, and the question is whether the product creates “such a risk” of an accident of the general nature of the one in question “that an ordinarily prudent company engaged in the manufacture” of such a product “would not have put it on the market.” Id. (quoting Nichols v. Union Underwear Co., Inc., 602 S.W.2d 429, 433 (Ky. 1980)). . . . Because a warning can make a product reasonably safe, “a product may be unreasonably dangerous in design, unless accompanied by a warning that it should not be put to a certain use.” C & S Fuel, Inc v. Clark Equipment Co, 552 F.Supp. 340, 347 (E.D.Ky. 1982). “The duty to warn extends to the dangers likely to result from foreseeable misuse of a product.” Morales v. American Honda Motor Co, Inc., 71 F.3d 531, 537 (6th Cir. 1995).

Jarrett v. Duro-Med Indus., No. CIV.A. 05-102-JBC, 2008 WL 89932 (E.D. Ky. Jan. 8, 2008) (Coffman, J.). “Under Kentucky law, a plaintiff has the burden of establishing causation in claims of negligence and strict liability” in a defective design action and “must produce evidence to justify a reasonable inference of probability rather than mere possibility that the alleged design defects were responsible for her injuries.” Id. (citing Stewart v. General Motors Corp., 222 F.Supp.2d 845, 848, 850 (W.D.Ky. 2002)).

         Under either a design or manufacturing defect theory, expert proof is necessary to show that the alleged defect was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's injury. Burgett v. Troy-Bilt LLC, 970 F.Supp.2d 676, 683 (E.D. Ky. 2013). Opinion testimony is required unless the internal workings of the product are within the common knowledge of the ordinary layperson. Stevens v. Keller Ladders, 1 Fed.Appx. 452, 458 (6th Cir. 2001). Opinion testimony is also required to support a plaintiff's “failure to warn” strict liability claim to provide a jury with some basis for apprising the adequacy of any warning. See West v. KKI, LLC, 300 S.W.3d 184, 196-97 (Ky. Ct. App. 2008).

         The case before this Court is distinguishable from Jarrett v. Duro-Med Indus. upon which the Halseys rely to argue that no expert evidence is necessary to support their claim that the proximate cause of their injuries was an inadequate warning of a potential rollover danger for the AGCO tractor equipped with the Titan tires in question. In Jarrett, the plaintiff was injured in a tip-over incident involving a transport wheelchair missing one of two handbrakes with which it was designed and sold. The plaintiff presented both expert evidence that application of light pressure when engaging the wheel brakes and use of both wheel brakes on a wheelchair would have prevented the type of tipping incident in which the plaintiff was injured and expert evidence with respect to similar types of warnings used on similar chairs that were offered to reduce or avoid any unreasonable risk of harm posed by improper use of the wheelchair. Thus, in Jarrett, the limited ...


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