Apr 6, 2007 – Chatsworth Superior Court, Chatsworth, CA
LOS ANGELES—The widow and children of a man who was killed after being run over by a backhoe are not entitled to damages from the tractor's manufacturer, John Deere, according to a Los Angeles Superior Court unanimous jury verdict.
The jury deliberated for 40 minutes after a two week trial in the wrongful death case and returned its verdict March 9. Adriana Pineda v. Deere & Company, PC033378Y (L.A. Super. Ct., filed Aug. 8, 2003).
Pedro Pineda was killed in August 2002 while working as a laborer for the plumbing and construction company Ed's Pumping. Pineda was trying to catch a ride across a worksite by jumping on the side step of an 11-foot-tall, 15,000-pound backhoe when he fell, was run over by the tractor's left front tire and died. He was 36.
"I think we effectively showed that this accident, as tragic as it was, was not the fault of the manufacturer," said Todd A. Cavanaugh, a partner from Yukevich Calfo & Cavanaugh who, along with Cristina M. Ciminelli, represented defendant Deere & Co. “This was a safe product."
Oscar E. Toscano, a Glendale attorney, represented the plaintiffs—Pineda's wife, Adriana Pineda, and the couple's four children. Toscano was unavailable for comment.
According to Cavanaugh, Toscano claimed that the John Deere 310E backhoe was defective in its design because it did not have a guardrail between the side step and the front tire or external side-view mirrors. Toscano also argued that the tractor should have had an external warning about passenger riding and that all warnings should have been in both English and Spanish.
External side mirrors and dual language warnings are an option for customers at John Deere, Cavanaugh said. The warning in the cab of the machine states in English "Never Carry Riders.”
Cavanaugh said he provided witnesses who testified that Pineda spoke, read and wrote English proficiently although it was his second language. Witnesses also testified that Pineda had driven backhoes before, and, like other employees of Ed's Pumping, knew that riding on the side step was a dangerous activity.
During the trial Cavanaugh said, it became clear that although Ed’s Pumping has a policy against riding on equipment, even the president and foreman of the company, Santana Molina, had done so.
Molina, whose company in Lebec is now called Santana's Pumping, did not respond to a request for comment. Ed's Pumping was not a defendant in the suit.
“The accident would not have happened if the people who were involved would have followed the company's safety rules, the warnings on the machine and the warnings in the owner's manual," Cavanaugh said. "It was our belief that the employer had effectively trained Pineda that it was OK to ride on the equipment."
He added that the Deere & Co. had sold 32,000 of the backhoes with an accumulated 230 million hours of operation.
"There has been only one incident involving a rider, and that rider worked at Ed's Pumping," he said.
Cavanaugh said Toscano made an uncountered settlement offer of $3 million the night before closing arguments in the case and the next day asked the Jury for $600,000 in economic damages and at least $6 million in noneconomic damages.
He said, “This trial demonstrated that with a safe product and a coherent defense, most juries will, as the law requires them to do, set aside their feelings of sympathy to try to determine what actually happened and why.”