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Hammond v. International Harvester Co.

decided: October 26, 1982.

HAMMOND, RUTH L., ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF JAMES B. HAMMOND, SR., AND RUTH L. HAMMOND, IN HER OWN RIGHT
v.
INTERNATIONAL HARVESTER CO., APPELLANT



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA.

Seitz, Chief Judge, Garth and Rosenn, Circuit Judges.

Author: Rosenn

Opinion OF THE COURT

ROSENN, Circuit Judge.

This case presents a narrow question for review: where a knowledgeable purchaser of farm equipment instructs the manufacturer of that equipment prior to delivery to remove a safety device incorporated as a standard feature in its product design, and an experienced employee of the purchaser who operates the equipment loses his life in an accident which probably would not have occurred if the standard safety device had been in place, may the manufacturer be held liable for the employee's death under Pennsylvania products liability law?

Plaintiff, as administratrix of the decedent's estate and in her individual capacity, instituted this diversity action*fn1 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the case was tried to a jury. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on the issue of liability, the parties having previously agreed to an amount for damages. The defendant, International Harvester Co. (manufacturer), appealed. We affirm.

I.

The events giving rise to this diversity action occurred on a Tyrone, Pennsylvania, dairy farm owned by Lois Peck and managed by John Newlin. James Hammond, Sr. (Hammond), a tenant farmer and employee of Ms. Peck, lived on the farm with his teenage son, Ronald Hammond (Ron), and his wife Ruth L. Hammond, the plaintiff in this case.

Newlin, the farm manager, was responsible for ordering equipment for the farm. In the time that he managed the Peck farm he purchased two skid loader tractors (tractors or skid loaders) for use primarily in moving manure. Newlin purchased the second tractor in 1976. It was an International Harvester Front End Skid Loader -- Series 3300.*fn2 That model comes equipped with a roll over protective structure and side screens (ROPS), which prevent the driver from leaning or falling out of the operator's seat area. Newlin requested the dealer to remove the ROPS from the farm's second tractor prior to delivery. Newlin, who died before trial, wanted the ROPS removed apparently because the tractor would have difficulty moving through a low barn door with the ROPS attached.

Jim Hammond operated the second tractor for approximately eight months without mishap. Then, on April 18, 1977, the fatal accident occurred. Hammond and his son Ron were attempting to put a metal leg stand under a manure conveyor. Hammond drove the tractor up to a hill where the manure conveyor was resting, and picked up the conveyor with the bucket of the loader so that Ron could put the support legs under the conveyor. As Ron was attempting to get the legs under the conveyor, his father stood up on the knee guard of the tractor, apparently to get a better view. As Hammond stood on the knee guard, he evidently slipped and in his fall inadvertently released the boom arm by striking the foot pedal. The boom arm descended suddenly, crushing his upper torso which was then extended over the side of the tractor. Hammond died pinned beneath the boom arm.

The manufacturer concedes that this fatal accident would not have occurred had the tractor been equipped with a ROPS. The jury could have inferred that had a ROPS been attached, its side screens would have broken Hammond's fall and kept him within the safety zone of the operator's seat. Thus, his body would not have extended over the side of the tractor and would not have been crushed by the boom arm.

The plaintiff brought this action on a products liability theory. She claimed that the Series 3300 loader tractor delivered to the Peck farm was defective in design because, inter alia, it lacked a ROPS and screens.

II.

The history of Pennsylvania's modern law of products liability begins with Webb v. Zern, 422 Pa. 424, 220 A.2d 853 (1966). In that case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted section 402A of the Restatement ...


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