Manufacturer Not Liable after Man Trapped under Lawn Mower Because He Failed to Purchase Optional Safety Equipment

In a recent case, a man’s decision to forego optional safety equipment later prevented compensation for his injuries. The man was riding his lawn mower when the mower fell off the edge of an embankment and rolled on top of him. He was trapped under the lawn mower, and tragically he died from suffocation. The man’s wife alleged that the lawn mower manufacturer was negligent because the machine did not come with a rollover protection system. However, the defendant pointed out that the man had the option of adding the rollover protection system when he bought the lawn mower, which he neglected to purchase.

SeatbeltA federal appeals court dismissed the plaintiff’s case, holding that, according to the optional equipment doctrine, a manufacturer generally will not be found negligent if a purchaser had the option of buying safety equipment that would have prevented the accident. The court explained that the doctrine may apply where a buyer is knowledgeable regarding the product’s use and the availability of the safety feature, there are normal circumstances in which the product without the optional equipment would not be unreasonably dangerous, and the buyer can balance the risks and benefits with regard to the buyer’s use of the product. Since the rollover protection system was an option when the man bought the lawn mower, the manufacturer could not be held negligent for failing to install the equipment.

The Optional Equipment Doctrine in Illinois

The optional equipment doctrine arises in the context of negligence in manufacturing. It is not exactly a defense, but instead it is a way a defendant can show that it fulfilled its duty to the purchaser. That is, the defendant, by informing buyers that an optional feature is available and can make the product safer for certain users, may have satisfied its duty to make a product safe.

The doctrine has not been applied in all jurisdictions. Illinois has applied the doctrine in some instances, including one involving a tractor that had an optional rollover protection system. In Illinois, a manufacturer generally has a duty to design a reasonably safe product, which cannot be delegated to the purchaser of a product. However, by providing optional safety equipment, this can act as a way for a manufacturer to fulfill its duty in some instances, rather than act as a delegation. For example, some safety equipment may not be appropriate for certain situations or may not be compatible with other attachments. These reasons may make it reasonable for a manufacturer to offer the safety equipment as an option rather than as standard equipment.

Have You Been Injured by a Defective Product?

If you have been injured by defective drugs, medical devices, auto parts, or other products, the products liability attorneys at Moll Law Group can advise you on how to proceed. Our attorneys provide aggressive representation through consumer education. We represent injured consumers in states throughout the United States, including California, New York, Illinois, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio. Billions of dollars have been recovered in cases in which we were involved. Contact us through our online form or call us at 312-462-1700 to set up a free consultation.

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