The case of Huchko v. Baker & Sons Equipment in Allegheny County Court ended with a jury awarding $2.2 million to the plaintiff. Michael Huchko brought the case accusing the defendant of failing to properly perform maintenance service for the brake system of a tractor. Huchko was operating a Blount tractor to clear a field of some brush when he was injured. The jury attributed 75% of the negligence to the defendant and 25% to the plaintiff. Baker & Sons, based in Lewisville, Ohio, is a well-established business that was founded in 1958.
Huchko temporarily parked and exited the tractor to retrieve some tools he needed. He applied the tractor’s parking brake prior to exiting, as the vehicle was on a surface with a slight incline. He suddenly noticed that the tractor was slowly rolling backward and quickly tried to jump back into the cab in order to stop it. He was unable to bring the tractor to a halt and it rolled over and crushed him. He was airlifted by helicopter to a hospital and underwent surgical treatment.
The tractor was inspected following the accident. It was determined that the parking brake was malfunctioning. Baker & Sons, who had serviced the brakes most recently, was accused of failing to properly replace the cable for the brake. During the trial, an expert for the defense agreed that it was somewhat likely that there had been a maintenance failure—an admission that likely impacted the jury’s decision.
Defense Denies Liability
The defense was adamant that the plaintiff bore some responsibility for the accident. They insisted that parking the tractor on a sloped surface was contrary to the manufacturer’s instructions for use and demonstrated a lack of common sense. One attorney in the case summarized it as “whether a jury would believe that a single loose jam nut caused the parking brake to fail.”
Pennsylvania’s Comparative Negligence Act
In this case, the jury apportioned 25% of the responsibility for the accident to the plaintiff. Pennsylvania law allows a plaintiff to still pursue recovery in these cases as long as their contribution of negligence is less than that of the defendant(s). If the plaintiff is awarded damages in the case, the amount that they may actually receive is proportionally reduced by their allocated percentage of negligence.
Similarly, if there are multiple defendants, each one may be liable for the percentage of damages that corresponds to their contribution of negligence. In rare cases where the actions of the defendant are deemed to have been willful or wanton, comparative negligence is not applicable.
Accidents Involving Brake Failure
- Brakes are clearly a critical feature for the overall safety of any vehicle or other machines that are on wheels
- Motor vehicles today are equipped with a host of reactionary safety devices including safety belts and airbags; however, brakes are capable of actually preventing a collision from ever occurring.
- Braking system failures may be the result of negligence attributed to the vehicle manufacturer, a part manufacturer, a repair service provider, and others.
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