Ryobi Lawn Mower Lawsuit Results in $2.5M Verdict Over Explosion, Burn Injury

A federal jury has awarded $2.5 million in damages for injuries suffered by an 88 year-old man when a Ryobi riding lawn mower exploded and caused him to suffer fatal burns.

The verdict (PDF) was returned on January 22, following a five day trial in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Norfolk division. The jury found Ryobi Technologies Inc. was negligent and accountable for the 2010 death of Frank Wright, who was killed during operation of a Ryobi lawn mower that allegedly contained a known design defect.

The wrongful death lawsuit was originally filed in June 2013, indicating that Ryobi knew that the design of a plastic fuel tank and fuel line connection on the ride-on mower was insecure and at risk of sudden fires. The complaint (PDF) pursued claims against Ryobi and Home Depot U.S.A., for negligence in failing to use due care in research and prevention of risks to owners, failing to conduct adequate pre-market testing, failure to provide proper warnings regarding risks, failure to use due care in the design of the mower to prevent ordinary and reasonably foreseeable risks and many others.

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While Ryobi and Home Depot denied all allegations and presented a defense that claimed the mower was safe as sold and pointed out that no other similar lawn tractor fires occurred prior to Wright’s death, the jury found only Ryobi liable for failing to properly handle information known to cause potential situations that could lead to unreasonable risk of injury.

During the discovery process before trial, evidence revealed another incident occurred in Indiana involving a similar Ryobi mower that burned a home to the ground. The timeline indicated the Indiana fire incident occurred five months prior to Mr. Wright’s death. Plaintiff attorneys said the company failed to notify the Consumer Product Safety Commission as required by federal law, and argued that the manufacturer should have issued a recall, notice warning or other alert to the nearly 18,000 owners of similar Ryobi ride-on mowers.

Instead, Ryobi discreetly offered owners a replacement tank that held the fuel line more securely, but never issued a proper recall or notice to consumers to avoid costly repairs for the mowers sold between 2005 and 2007 at Home Depot stores.

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