Jury Awards $5 Million to Widow in Tractor Fatality

A jury in Oklahoma recently awarded a woman $5 million in a civil suit claiming her husband’s death in a tractor accident was the equipment manufacturer’s fault.

The jury found Deere & Co. to be responsible for the May 2014 death of 38-year-old James Beall of Stillwater, Okla. The tractor Beall was driving rolled over, trapping him underneath.

The case involved a compact utility tractor with a front loader. The tractor and the optional front loader were assembled at the Deere plant in Georgia and then shipped to a dealership in Stillwater.

The suit claimed the tractor was unsafe and had not been properly configured by either the factory or the dealership before she and her husband took delivery. Deere denied the accusations.

The widow’s attorneys said Deere’s manufacturing failed to add additional weight to the rear of the tractor to counterbalance the almost 700-pound front-end loader before it left the Deere plant in Georgia. The weight was also not added at the local dealership.

Representatives of Deere said the tractor was not defective or unreasonably dangerous and suggested Beall may not have been wearing his seatbelt.
During the trial, the representative for Deere conceded that the ballast is supposed to be added to the rear and tires of the tractor. The instruction manual said that “to prevent death or bodily injury from tractor loader roll-over, the required amount of ballast must be added to the tractor.”

The proper ballast wasn’t added before Beall bought the tractor, and his wife’s attorneys argued that evidence shown during the trial suggested if the weight had been added as recommended, the tractor would not have rolled over.

A product safety engineer for Deere testified that the tractor was supposed to be configured ready for use at the dealership, and there is a checklist dealers go through to ensure a tractor is ready for use. Among the checklist items was the installation of ballast to prevent rollover and injury.

Source: Stillwater News Press