Legal Memorandum: Tractor Equipment Malfunction Case

Issue: In a tractor equipment malfunction case, whether evidence should be limited to incidents involving the specific model alone or if it would be proper to include evidence regarding other agricultural tractors, construction equipment and lawn mowing equipment.

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Tractor equipment malfunction; Evidence; Rollover accidents
Jurisdiction: Federal, Minnesota
Cited Cases: 611 F.2d 224
Cited Statutes: Federal Practice and Procedure § 3069, at. 353-55
Date: 11/01/2010

In a key case directly on point, Wagner v. International Harvester, 611 F.2d 224 (8th Cir. 1979), the Eighth Circuit held that evidence of rollovers of other tractor models, and even other types of tractors (wheeled as opposed to tracked) are relevant on the issue of whether defendants should have foreseen the danger of rollovers.  The court said:

IHC next argues that the likelihood of a 500C tipping over was so small (and the cost of rollover protection so great) that it should not be held liable.  The record reflects, however, that approximately 30,000 tractor operators had been crushed in rollover accidents before 1971.  Although most of these accidents involved less stable wheeled tractors, the jury could consider that evidence and draw from it the conclusion that IHC should have foreseen rollovers of Model 500C crawlers.

611 F.2d at 230-31.

Other courts share this view that evidence of other accidents is admissible, even though other models, sizes, weights or even other manufacturers’ products are involved, as long as the alleged defect itself is substantially similar.  See Smith v. Ingersoll-Rand Co., 214 F.3d 1235, 1248 (10th Cir. 2000) (evidence of accidents involving machines of different sizes and models admissible because the substantial similarity rule, does not necessarily require identical models or sizes but rather “substantial similarity among the variables relevant to plaintiff’s theory of the defect.”); Moulton v. Rival Co., 116 F.3d 22, 27 (1st Cir. 1997) (evidence of different models admissible […]

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