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$2.5 Million Jury Verdict for Estate of Chesapeake, Virginia Man Burned to Death While Operating a Ryobi Lawn Mower

Holding a Corporation Accountable

When you manufacture a product, you owe a duty to consumers to make sure that product is reasonably safe and if you discover that the product is dangerous, you need to alert the public. That is where Ryobi Technologies, Inc. fell short in this heartbreaking case.

Frank S. Wright was on his Ryobi ride-on lawn mower cutting grass and trying to get his backyard to look nice in preparation for holiday festivities on December 23, 2010. Just two days before Christmas, the Wrights were planning to come together at Frank's home to enjoy eachother's company. Suddenly, without warning, Mr. Wright's mower exploded engulfing him in flames. The fire was so powerful that Mr. Wright died just moments after the explosion. Mr. Wright's wife heard the explosion and saw her husband covered in flames. She ran outside and tried to put the fire out, but the flames were so strong and Mr. Wright was covered in so much fuel that all she could do was watch in horror. Lawn mower accidents occur in Virginia more often than you think.   

Mr. Wright’s estate filed a wrongful death action. Their attorneys were Virginia Beach & Norfolk wrongful death lawyer Richard Shapiro and Kansas City, Misouri wrongful death lawyer Rob Sullivan. The case was filed against the lawn mower manufacturer, Ryobi, and the seller of the mower, Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. The case was litigated in the Eastern District of Virginia, Norfolk Division.

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Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Sullivan argued that Ryobi knew that the design of the plastic fuel tank and fuel line connection on its ride-on lawn mower was insecure and Ryobi was aware of the risk of sudden fires before Mr. Wright's tragic death. Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Sullivan discovered that Ryobi made a newly designed fuel tank available within only one year of Mr. Wright purchasing his Ryobi ride-on mower in a Home Depot store.

For two years, Ryobi denied that any other similar lawn mower fires occurred prior to Mr. Wright’s tragic, preventable death in 2010. However, evidence was brought to light indicating another Ryobi mower fire occurred in Indiana that burned a home to the ground. That's right - a ride-on mower fire occurred months before Mr. Wright's death, yet no notice or alert was sent out by Ryobi to purchasers of this model ride-on lawn mower. Here is another example of a company refusing to alert consumers of the dangers of their product.

The defense team for Ryobi and Home Depot tried to argue that Mr. Wright was "plowing leaves" on a cold day and that's what caused the fire. They also argued that he shouldn't have even been operating the mower because he was elderly and had some health problems (Mr. Wright was 88-years-old at the time of his death). The jury simply did not accept such preposterous arguments.

The trial lasted five day and after deliberating for approximately four hours, the federal jury returned a $2.5 million verdict in favor of the widow. The jury determined that Ryobi was negligent in manufacturing the fuel tank and fuel line and that they owed a duty to Mr. Wright, along with thousands of other Ryobi customers, to warn of the discovered defects. Some companies do the right thing by voluntarily recalling defective products.

“Ryobi tried to convince the jury that a senior citizen’s life had a discounted value, and we contended that every day of life is precious no matter what age you are,” said Virginia Beach & Norfolk wrongful death lawyer Rick Shapiro.

Jury Verdict: 

$2.5 Million Awarded to Widow


Richard N. Shapiro

Patrick J. Austin

Rob C. Sullivan, out-of-state counsel admitted to Virginia pro hac vice


Paula M.

Roz H.


Eastern District of Virginia, Norfolk Division