Rose v. Highway Equipment Co. – Overcoming Pure Contributory Negligence Standard in Alabama

The product liability lawsuit brought in Massachusetts by a man whose hand was mangled by lawn machinery failed after a jury apportioned him 73 percent fault for his own injury. In that state, plaintiffs who hold 50 percent of the fault or more for their own injury are barred from collecting on a claim.

In Alabama, our Montgomery injury lawyers know our courts follow a much stricter standard. In fact, we are one of just five states following the pure contributory negligence model, which holds a plaintiff who holds any percentage of fault for his own injuries will be barred from bringing a claim.

Per the 2002 Alabama Supreme Court ruling in H.R.H. Metals, Inc. v. Miller, a defendant proves contributory negligence by showing the plaintiff failed to exercise reasonable care.

By contrast, there are other jurisdictions that follow the “pure comparative fault” model, which allows for recovery based on proportionate shares of fault, even if the plaintiff holds up to 99 percent of the fault.

Massachusetts follows the modified comparative fault model, which is somewhere in the middle.

In the case of Rose v. Highway Equipment Company, a man working for his father-in-law’s business was severely injured while oiling the chain on a broadcast spreader. His lawsuit alleged breach of implied warranty of merchantability and also negligence.

In dispute was how the worker’s hand became caught. The jury heard numerous theories. The worker testified he was kneeling between a truck cab and the front of the spreader, spraying the chain with oil, when he felt a tug on his sleeve and was unable to pull away as his right hand and forearm were pulled further into the machine’s grip. Although he’d been instructed to oil the chain from behind, he told his boss/father-in-law he had done so from the front because he thought it would be easier.

It was the contention of the manufacturer, however, that the worker drunk a beer earlier that afternoon, was climbing on a ladder on the side of the truck, lost his balance and fell into the machine.

In order to prove a breach of implied warranty, a consumer needs to show he or she acted reasonably. In this case, because the worker did not use the machine properly (by his own admission), the jury found his use of the machine unreasonable. On the issue of negligence, the jury found him largely at-fault for his own injury.

Those rulings were both upheld on appeal.

Because the contribution of negligence standard in Alabama is so much stricter than in Massachusetts, such a claim might not have been worth bringing here. It will depend heavily on the facts of the individual case, and the risks need to be carefully weighed before deciding to proceed.

An experienced Montgomery injury lawyer may be able to present a strong case that can overcome this standard, as the question of contributory negligence is often highly subjective and open to interpretation. Contacting an experienced law firm as soon as possible is the best course of action when it comes to protecting your rights after a serious or fatal accident.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Additional Resources:
Rose v. Highway Equipment Co., Aug. 27, 2014, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
More Blog Entries:
Burlington Coat Factory v. Butler – Alabama Appeals Court Weighs Retail Store Liability, Aug. 15, 2014, Montgomery Injury Attorney Blog

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