Tractor Hood Collapses on Mechanic

On May 14, 2009 Arturo Salazar, 59, a tractor mechanic for Empire Southwest, was performing routine maintenance on a Challenger 845 B tractor. The tractor was manufactured by AGCO Corp. and owned by Kelomar Farms, at Elmore Farm near the Salton Sea. The tractor was equipped with two gas struts to lift and secure the 350 pound hood assembly.

Salazar bent over the engine compartment to change an air filter, the hood suddenly fell onto his lower back, trapping him. Salazar claimed that after 20 minutes he managed to squeeze out from between the hood’s edge and the frame.

Mr. Salazar drove home from the farm and was then taken to the emergency room later that evening.  He suffered a fractured sternum; multiple rib fractures; a torn right rotator cuff; a herniated disk at L5-S1; and abrasions to his back, chest, and neck. He underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair his right shoulder on October 11, 2010 and a lumbar fusion surgery on January 29, 2012. He also suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, as a result of the accident for which he takes antidepressants and receives regular counseling sessions.

His past medical expenses totaled about $114,314 and his future medical expenses are estimated at about $48,418. He continues to suffer pain and is left with restricted range of motion in his lower back.

Salazar could not return to his previous job as a diesel mechanic and is now restricted to light duty work. His past, lost earnings totaled about $196,286, and his future lost earnings are estimated at $459,284. Besides his physical disabilities from the accident, he lacks education and experience, has poor language skills, lives in a city with a 29 percent unemployment rate, and is 59-year-old.

Salazar sued AGCO Corp. and Kelomar Farms, alleging that the tractor’s hood lifting assembly was defectively designed. Specifically, he claimed that the struts were under-designed, since they only had one seal, rather than two, resulting in a reduction in their useful life in certain operating environments. Salazar explained that the seal had developed a leak, and over time, caused the collapse. He also alleged that the hood assembly should have incorporated a separate bracing component.  Salazar’s expert testified that the hood design posed a risk of injury that could have been avoided by including a mechanical brace such as a prop rod or locking strut.

Salazar alleged that AGCO was aware of the danger but failed to issue a recall. He offered evidence that the company had received numerous complaints of strut failure.  In spite of this, Salazar contended that AGCO failed to recall or retrofit the tractors, but simply posted a technical service bulletin on its website, recommending that double seal struts be used when replacing the original struts.

Salazar also argued that AGCO failed to warn about the danger of hood collapse and adequately instruct owners, service technicians, and dealers about strut inspection, replacement, and useful life.

AGCO claims that Salazar’s employer and the tractor owner were solely at fault because they failed to timely replace the struts and that a mechanic who had worked on the tractor about four months before the incident had documented that the struts needed replacing.

The jury found AGCO was 100 percent at fault for strict liability design defect, failure to warn, and negligence for failure to retrofit. The jury awarded about $2.1 million, of which $280,000 was for past pain and suffering and $1,000,000 for future pain and suffering.

The trial court denied AGCO’s motion for a new trial, and is being appealed.

For more information, contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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