Intermediate Court Requires Manufacturer To Provide Design Information

In a recent ruling from the Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi, an appellate court has determined that the party suing a manufacturer of a riding lawn mower can learn about the manufacturer’s efforts to reduce the risk of a rollover on other machines.

On his first day on the job, Rodolfo Castillo was permanently paralyzed by a lawn mower made by Exmark Manufacturing Co., Inc. when it rolled over. The worker sued the maker because it did not provide rollover protection. During the course of the suit, Castillo’s lawyer sought to obtain information from the maker concerning the design of this and similar products. Using a tactic that other manufacturers have used in products liability cases, Exmark refused to provide the information, claiming that it would only provide information about the specific product in question.

In the opinion of In re Exmark Manufacturing Co, Inc. handed down on November 3, 2009, the court of appeals ruled that Exmark would have to provide the information. The court ruled that Exmark had failed to produce any evidence to satisfy its burden to prove that the scope of the request for information was overly broad. Additionally, since the law requires a plaintiff who brings a products liability suit to prove that there was a “safer alternative design,” it is appropriate to obtain information about what other designs the product maker actually uses. The products do not have to be identical, as long as they are similar.

The court concluded this case – which is a victory for those trying to hold manufacturers responsible for their dangerous products – by quoting an earlier ruling: “Only in certain narrow circumstances is it appropriate to obstruct the search for truth by denying discovery.”