The Massachusetts Appeals Court today dismissed a wrongful-death lawsuit by Mark Fidrych's widow against Mack Trucks and the maker of a component that led to his strangulation death on his Northborough farm in 2009.
The appellate court ruled that while somebody could have taken steps to make the system for powering components of the truck safer, neither Mack Trucks nor the Parker-Hannifin Corp., which made the part, could be held responsible, because their products were working as designed and they cannot be legally blamed for the way they operated when combined by a third party. Fidrych had ordered a stripped down Mack truck chassis in 1987 and then had a "power take-off" system installed to lift and lower the truck's "dump body" via a spinning shaft connected to the truck's transmission.
Fidrych, who became famous during his 1976 rookie season was found dead of strangulation under the truck, which he had used to haul dirt on his farm, in April, 2009. He was 54.
The justices wrote:
As Fidrych's accident illustrates, having an exposed auxiliary drive shaft and U-joint presents serious potential dangers, e.g., to someone working underneath the truck while the PTO is engaged. It is uncontested that this system could have been designed and installed in a manner that alleviated such risks.
But even though both Mack and Parker-Hanifin included warnings in their documentation about the exposed drive shaft, ultimately, neither was negligent when it came to Fidrych's death, because he died due to the way the transmission and the power take-off worked when combined, not due to a specific defect in either part:
[W]e conclude that where, as here, the components manufactured by the defendants included no design
defects, and the risks posed by the assembled product arose out of the addition of other components and the decisions made, and actions taken, by downstream actors, the defendants had no duty to warn of those dangers.