Eighth Circuit Upholds Verdict Against Plaintiff Claiming Defective Bulldozer Design – Linden v. CNH America

By March 16, 2012Product Liability

As a Missouri products liability attorney, I know that defects in the design of motor vehicles can be among the most dangerous. While passenger cars and trucks, and commercial semi trucks, are regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, regulation of vehicles like tractors, ATVs and construction equipment is handled through the Consumer Products Safety Commission (and sometimes other agencies), which doesn’t specialize in motor vehicles and may not be able to give them the same scrutiny. Nor are they generally subjected to the seatbelt, roll bar and other safety requirements made for passenger vehicles, making them potentially more dangerous than passenger vehicles of the same power. In Linden v. CNH America, the victim of a bulldozer accident unsuccessfully sued, claiming the bulldozer had serious defects.
Thomas Lowell Linden’s bulldozer rolled over while he was using it to create a steep bank in a drainage pond. The bulldozer had a passenger protection system, but Linden was ejected from it and ended up with his legs crushed under the vehicle, sustaining severe injury. He eventually sued CNH, the maker of the bulldozer for defects in the design, manufacture and warnings on the vehicle. The court determined that this could include a claim for defects in the seatbelt, which was made by another company. The trial judge granted a directed verdict on the claim for manufacturing defects and the jury found for CNH on the remaining design defects and inadequate warnings claim. Linden appealed, arguing that a juror should have been struck; the jury instructions were wrong; and there should not have been a directed verdict.
The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately upheld the district court. On the directed verdict issue, Linden argued that there was sufficient evidence to support a finding that various mechanical flaws led to a weak seatbelt. However, the Eighth Circuit found that the claims in question were really design defect claims, since the alleged flaws did not depart from the intended design. Thus, it upheld the district court. It next upheld the jury instructions given by the court, which were suggested by CNH. The court correctly gave a “sophisticated user” instruction because Linden was a bulldozer operator, the Eighth said. Its instruction on premature wear was an adequate statement of Iowa law, the appeals court said, as was an instruction relying on a Society of Automotive Engineers standard. Finally, Linden argued that a prospective juror should have been struck for cause; he ultimately used a peremptory strike on that juror. The Eighth agreed, but found the error harmless.
This decision is a good example of the details that matter in a product defects case. Linden’s assertions on appeal are very specific, but if he was injured by a defective seatbelt, it’s likely that the defects leading to the injury would also be very specific. As a St. Louis defective products lawyer, I often need to zoom in on details in order to prove my clients’ cases, whether they are alleging safety flaws in an ATV, children’s toys or electrical wiring. We rely on manufacturers to make products that work as expected — particularly in the case of safety restraints like a seatbelt or child safety seat. When they fail, those manufacturers are legally responsible under Missouri and Illinois law for any injuries that result. As a southern Illinois unsafe products attorney, I’m proud to help clients seek financial compensation for this type of injury.


If you or someone you love suffered a serious injury because of a safety flaw in a consumer product, you should call Carey, Danis & Lowe for help. Based in St. Louis, we represent clients across Missouri and southern Illinois. For a free consultation, send us an email or call 1-877-678-3400.
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