A Texas jury awarded $15.8 million last month to a rancher whose Textron utility cart suddenly accelerated and ran over her as she was opening a livestock gate. Plaintiffs Gini and Scott Nester and their two children run a ranch in Buda, Texas, which is located south of Austin. On a December day in 2011, Mrs. Nester was using the utility cart – part of Textron’s line of golf carts – to transport feed for their livestock. She got out of the cart and opened a gate. At that time, a bag of feed that was left on the passenger floorboard fell onto the accelerator. Due to the faulty design of the cart, the bag “kicked off” the parking brake. As the woman turned back around from opening the gate, the cart ran over her, pinning her underneath the cart. Mrs. Nester became a quadriplegic as a result of her injuries.
The jury found that Mrs. Nester was 50 percent at fault for the accident. As a result, the verdict will be reduced by that percentage. The jury awarded damages to Mrs. Nester for past and future physical pain and mental anguish, medical expenses, and earning capacity, among other things. The jury also awarded damages to her children and husband. Mrs. Nester was awarded $10.4 million and her family members a total of $5.4 million. In response to the verdict-form question “Was there a design defect in the utility vehicle at the time it left the possession of Textron that was a producing cause of the injury in question,” the jury answered, “Yes.” However, the jury declined to award punitive damages.
Textron’s design was unacceptable and should not have included the ability to so easily disable what was supposed to be a failsafe. A functioning failsafe would have prevented the cart from spontaneously accelerating when there is no driver in the vehicle. A safer alternative design existed at the time the cart was made. It was proved at trial that the cart wasn’t fit for its intended purpose.
The trial judge allowed a “day in the life” video showing how difficult daily tasks are now for Mrs. Nester. The jurors were also allowed to go outside the courtroom to see a live demonstration of the “kick-off” mechanism. The Nesters were represented by Sean Breen of Howry Breen & Herman LLP and by Craig Nevelow of Wright & Greenhill PC. These lawyers did an excellent job in this case, which was tried in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. They got a good result for their client.
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