Combine Harvester Manufacturer Found Guilty of Negligence

The manufacturer of a combine harvester which crushed a man’s fingers-John Deere Ltd-has been found guilty of negligence in designing the machine.

In June 1995, Denis Scollard (thirty years old at the time of the accident) was employed for the agricultural contractors Thomas and William Wright. He was working for various farmers in County Limerick, collecting silage and operating a John Deere 6810 combine harvester.

While operating this piece of machinery, a grass blockage occurred. Denis attempted to clear the obstacle via the inspection hatch. As he was doing so, the combine harvester’s paddles came down inside the chute, crushing the fingers on Denis’ left hand.

After receiving treatment for his injury, Denis sought legal counsel, and made a combine harvester injury claim in 1996 against his employers and received €430,000 in personal injury compensation. Thomas and William Wright subsequently made a claim against the companies from whom the machine was leased and supplied to recover what they had paid to their employee.

The leasing company-AIB Finance and Leasing-and the supplies-Geary’s Garage Ltd-in turn sought indemnity from John Deere Ltd who manufactured the combine harvester which injured Denis.

The manufacturer denied liability for Denis’ injuries, arguing that the accident could not have occurred as claimed as the paddles would not have crushed Denis’ fingers if he had followed the instructions published in the combine harvester’s manual.

They claimed that there was no scientific basis to explain how the paddles could have moved if Denis had disengaged the engine of the combine harvester as he claimed that he had. Despite their defence, Ms Justice Mary Irvine found in favour of AIB Finance & Leasing and Geary’s Garage after hearing evidence from two eye witnesses and a medical expert in the High Court in December 2007.

The judge ruled that John Deere Ltd had been negligent by “designing, manufacturing and selling a combine harvester with a design defect”. They were ordered to settle the injury claim; commenting that Denis´ injuries would have been far worse if the engine of the combine harvester had been engaged.

The decision was appealed by John Deere Ltd, and last week the case was heard at the Supreme Court before Mr Justice Frank Clarke. The judge upheld the High Court’s verdict that Denis’ injuries were a foreseeable consequence of negligence. They ordered John Deere Ltd to reimburse the €430,000 paid in settlement of Denis’ combine harvester injury claim.