New York Court Of Appeals Holds Products Manufacturer Can Be Liable For Defect After Substantial Consumer Modification

In Hoover v. New Holland North America, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled earlier this month that the seller, Niagara Frontier Equipment Sales, Inc., and distributor, CNH America LLC, of a tractor-driven post hole digger were liable for an accident that tore off the arm of a teenage girl back in 2004.

The girl, Jessica Bowers, 16, of Niagara County, was dragged into the rotating driveline of the digger being operated by her stepfather, who had borrowed the digger from a friend, Peter Smith. Smith admitted to previously removing a plastic safety shield from the digger because years of use had worn it down.

The shield would have protected Bower from being dragged into the driveline. However, the Court ruled that the safety shield's design was faulty, which caused Smith to remove it. Bowers's stepfather, Hoover, sued the digger's seller, distributor, manufacturer, component maker, and others, citing negligence and strict products liability.