A corporation's attempt to circumvent justice failed miserably on November 23, 2016. Ryobi Technologies, Inc., a multi-national business that produced lawn mowers and related products to consumers, appealed a Norfolk, Virginia jury's decision to award $2.5 million to a family in a wrongful death case. The family lost a loved one after a Ryobi ride-on lawn mower exploded engulfing the man in flames. The fire was so powerful that the operator, an 88-year-old husband and father named Frank Wright, died just moments after the explosion.
The wrongful death case was brought on behalf of the Wright estate by Virginia Beach personal injury lawyer Richard N. Shapiro of Shapiro, Appleton & Duffan and co-counsel Rob Sullivan of Sullivan Law based in Kansas City, Missouri. These experienced trial attorneys teamed up to advocate for the common sense principle that when a corporation manufactures a product, they owe a duty to consumers to make sure that product is reasonably safe and if they discover that the product is dangerous, the corporation needs to alert the public. Ryobi Technologies, Inc. ("Ryobi") fell woefully short in this gut-wrenching case.
Ryobi repeatedly denied that it was aware of any other similar lawn mower fires occurring prior to Mr. Wright’s tragic, preventable death in 2010. However, evidence was brought to light by Shapiro and Sullivan revealing that another, similar Ryobi mower fire occurred just months prior to the deadly mower fire that claimed the life of Mr. Wright. This was a prime example of a corporation showing total indifference to the safety of the public. Even worse, evidence came to the surface indicating that Ryobi tried to effectively sneak one by consumers by initiating a proverbial "silent recall" on defective parts used in manufacturing certain ride-on mower models.
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Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Rejects Ryobi's Attempts to Evade Responsibility
After a five-day trial, a Norfolk, Virginia jury found that Ryobi was negligent in manufacturing the fuel tank and fuel line and they owed a duty to Mr. Wright to warn of the discovered defects. The jury awarded $2.5 million to the Wright estate, which included Mr. Wright's widow. Ryobi Technologies immediately appealed the jury verdict to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The company argued that it should not be held liable for negligently manufacturing the fuel tank and fuel line because it did not actually manufacture the mower parts.
The Court of Appeals rejected these arguments and unequivocally affirmed the $2.5 million jury verdict in favor of the Wright estate declaring that it was content to affirm the judgment on the cogent reasoning spelled out by the district court. The affirmance is a victory not only for the Wright family, but for corporate accountability.