Victims of John Deere, Murray, or Craftsman lawn tractor accidents should contact John Gehlhausen to discuss their legal options. Mr. Gehlhausen is one of the leading lawn tractor accident attorneys in the country.
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The Law Offices of John Gehlhausen, P.C. will fight to help victims recover lost support, funeral expenses, medical-related expenses, and lost wages, as well as compensation for pain and suffering, lost companionship and other hardships...
When used on ditch banks or inclines, riding lawn mowers can roll over and pin or crush the rider beneath their weight...
In the following article, attorney John Gehlhausen takes a critical look at common warnings outlined in the owners' manuals for lawn tractors. Accidents have always occurred despite the numerous warnings of manufacturers. It is for this reason that Mr. Gehlhausen is an avid supporter of manufacturers’ installing rollover protective systems on all lawn tractors and mowers. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a rollover accident, please contact the Law Offices of John Gehlhausen, P.C.
THE 15-DEGREE SLOPE FALLACY
By: John Gehlhausen
Riding Mower Accident Product Liability Attorney
Most manufacturers now publish in their operator’s manuals that you should not drive the machine on a slope greater than 15 degrees. Driving on less than a 15-degree slope is absolutely no insurance against a rollover. One lawn tractor mower manufacturer even notes in its operator’s manual that uneven slopes can cause rollovers. Uneven slopes can be the result of bumps and dips in the ground that may be covered by vegetation. The industry that manufacturers riding mowers is well aware of the fact that many rollover accidents occur on slopes that are less than 15 degrees. Even the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has noted that these rollovers occur when mowing on level ground, particularly if, for one reason or another, a wheel accidentally goes over the edge of any embankment. Thus even heeded 15-degree slope warnings do not always protect an operator. Rollovers can occur from simply taking a turn too quickly with these machines. If a tractor rolls over and there is no safety frame system (a rollover protective system consisting of a roll bar and seat belt, often called a "ROPS") installed, the result is often fatal for the operator. One of these machines resting on top of the chest of the operator, even if that operator is a professional football player or professional wrestler, is enough to cause asphyxiation. If the rollover ends up in water, the danger to the operator is even greater. Even an arm or leg pinned deep enough beneath the water can cause drowning.
There are many problems with the manufacturers’ choice to put inexpensive warnings in the manual as opposed to installing a safety device like a rollover protective system (ROPS) on the riding mower. Of the scores of warnings that are in an operator’s manual - sometimes more than one hundred (100) - how many real-world people can remember them all, even 10 minutes after reading the manual? People who read manuals shortly after buying one of the machines do not read them with the idea of being in one particular type of accident as opposed to another. No one plans on being involved in a rollover themselves.
The operator manual’s warnings about traveling on a slope above 15 degrees do not say over what distance you gauge the degree of the angle of the slope. In the real world, slopes are not uniform over any set distance. Slopes have bumps and indentations which often can be and are concealed by vegetation. But if driven across at the speeds zero-turn-radius lawn tractors (ZTRs) are designed to travel, these slopes can cause rollovers, even when the overall slope might appear to be less than 15 degrees.
In general, people are very poor judges of slope angles. This has been documented by studies done by the CPSC and at least one other study. It is highly doubtful that any untrained observer could accurately tell a 15-degree slope from one that is 12 degrees or 18 degrees. In the real world virtually all these mowers, in fact, can and do travel over slopes that are greater than 15 degrees. Assuming an operator does have the skill and talent to accurately gauge the existence of a 15-degree slope, the fact that he or she has traveled the slope before with the same riding mower greatly diminishes the believability of the warning. In other words, if an operator successfully navigates a slope in excess of 15 degrees on one or more occasions, the aversion to the risk tends to decrease to the point that the warning is simply no longer believed. The CPSC has documented that at least 42 percent of riding mower drivers in the real world in fact do drive on slopes in excess of 15 degrees. This is indicative that they do not naturally perceive a hazard in doing so.
Manufacturers often put a drawing in their operator’s manuals which, in theory, will allow a person to gauge an overall slope angle. At least one study has documented that this drawing simply is not accurate. This paper “slope gauge” ignores the fact that within an overall slope there can be bumps and indentations which, if encountered singly or in tandem can cause the mower to exceed 15 degrees.
If manufacturers were truly serious about having their 15-degree warning being even partially effective, they would place inclinometers on the machines - one for forward and rear tilts and another for sideways tilts. Yet because the angle of a slope is not always going to be uniform (particularly around turns), an operator may need to stop the machine in order to gauge what the inclinometer says. Stopping, however, is no different than how the drawing in the operator's manual is also designed to be used.
The paper slope gauge often contained in operator manuals is inconsistent with real world situations. It is not realistic to expect an operator to stop to measure with the paper “slope gauge” every time the slope changes or for an operator to even remove the drawing from the operator’s manual when the paper is not water-resistant and the manufacturer chooses not to provide a waterproof container on the machine.
It is not an acceptable course of conduct for manufacturers to simply load warning after warning into their operators’ manuals when it is impossible for those of us who live in the real world to remember them all. Ordinary people have no reason to anticipate that they will be involved in a lawn tractor rollover accident when considering all the other things that are warned against in the manual. The history of product safety has shown time and time again that warnings are an inadequate substitute for passive guards and other protective devices. Rollover protective safety frame systems (ROPS) are nearly 100 percent effective in preventing deaths and serious, permanent injuries when riding mower rollovers inevitably happen.
Victims of John Deere, Murray, or Craftsman lawn tractor accidents should retain the services of an aggressive attorney. John Gehlhausen is renowned throughout the United States for his expertise in the area of riding mower and garden tractor accident law. If you've been injured, please contact the Law Offices of John Gehlhausen, P.C., to schedule a consultation.