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Chauncey v. Peco

February 16, 2010

FRED A. CHAUNCEY AND PATRICIA A. CHAUNCEY PLAINTIFFS
v.
PECO, INC., DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stengel, J.

MEMORANDUM

In the autumn of 2006, Fred Chauncey was removing leaves from the grounds of Hollyhedge Estates. He was driving a tractor equipped with a "lawn vac," which was designed, manufactured, and sold by defendant Peco, Inc. When he noticed a hose and blower cone had become dislodged from the lawn vac, Mr. Chauncey attempted to retrieve the hose and blower cone and his hand was drawn into the vacuum. He suffered an amputation of his left index finger, and injury to his left middle finger and thumb, and filed this product liability lawsuit. Peco filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, I will deny the motion.

I. Background

Fred A. Chauncey was the head of maintenance at Hollyhedge Estate, a bed-and- breakfast in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He was a groundskeeper, and was responsible for keeping the 20 to 26 acre property clear of leaves. Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts Which Present Genuine Issues for Trial and Additional Facts Which Preclude Summary Judgment at ¶ 4 [hereinafter Plaintiff's Statement of Facts].

On September 21, 2005, Hollyhedge purchased a grass collection system ("lawn vac") designed, manufactured and sold by defendant Peco, Inc. Defendant, Peco, Inc.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts in Support of Its Motion for Summary Judgment at ¶ 10 [hereinafter Defendant's Statement of Facts]. The lawn vac was retrofitted into a Gravely "Zero Turn" Tractor that had previously been purchased by Hollyhedge. Id.

The lawn vac contains several components. It has a hard plastic "boot" which fits onto the deck of the Gravely tractor. Defendants Statement of Facts at ¶ 11; Plaintiff's Statement of Facts at ¶ 11. A flexible intake hose, approximately three feet in length, is attached to the boot and spans the distance between the boot and the blower cone. Id. The intake hose is affixed to the boot and the blower cone through a hose clamp. Id. The blower cone is fastened to the blower housing, which is a cast aluminum enclosure and houses the rotating impeller. Id. The impeller rotates, cutting the grass, leaves, and other debris, and blowing them upward into the discharge hose. The hose spans the blower housing and collection hopper, which are mounted on the back of the tractor. Id.

On October 26, 2006, as Mr. Chauncey was using the lawn vac, he realized the lawn vac was not picking up the leaves. Plaintiff's Statement of Facts at ¶ 12; Defendants Statement of Facts at ¶13. Mr. Chauncey dismounted the lawn vac, and noticed the lower hose, which still had the blower cone attached, was not attached to the lawn vac. Plaintiff's Statement of Facts at ¶ 12. When Mr. Chauncey reached to pick up the lower hose and blower cone, his left hand was drawn into the rotating impeller blade. Id.; Defendant's Statement of Facts at ¶17. Mr. Chauncey suffered a left index finger amputation, and fractures to his left thumb and middle finger. Plaintiff's Statement of Facts at ¶ 12; Defendant's Statement of Facts at ¶18.

A warning affixed to the lawn vac reads:

Danger

Keep hands and clothes clear! Rotating Blades!

Do not remove hoses until tractor engine and vac engine have been completely stopped and turned off. Excessive vibration may be due to internal blade damage.

Some tractors may require wheel weights.

Defendant, Peco, Inc's Motion for Summary Judgment Pursuant to Fed. R. C. P. 56 at Exh. G. In addition, the operator's manual states "[s]top unit, shut off deck attachment, set parking brake, shut off mower engine and remove spark plug wire before removing clogs, removing or replacing hose, boot, blower cone, or performing any maintenance." Id. at Exh. E. The manual also states the following:

WARNING! NEVER operate the unit unless the discharge guard and either the deflector assembly or the vacuum collector adapter are fastened securely in place.

WARNING! Do not work around the mower deck boot or the blower area until you are certain that the mower blades and the blower impeller have stopped rotating.

WARNING! To avoid serious injury, perform maintenance on the collector. ONLY AFTER STOPPING THE MOWER"S ENGINE AND WAITING FOR ALL MOVING PARTS TO COME TO A COMPLETE STOP. Set the parking brake. Always remove the ignition key before beginning maintenance.

WARNING! For your own personal safety, ALWAYS mow UP and DOWN the face of slopes and NEVER across the face. NEVER attempt to mow excessively step slopes, ...


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