Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Legend: Plaintiff who cuts off fingers using a lawn mower as a hedge trimmer sues manufacturer for warning label failure and wins.
Origins: The legend about a man losing fingers through his foolishly using a lawn mower as a hedge trimmer is an old one; a 1978 article in the law review Forum contained reference to it, even then painting it as a yarn that had been around the block a few times. Over the years, it has been told by various folks,
The story exists not only as a cautionary tale warning against irresponsible use of lawn mowers (and by extension, other dangerous implements in manners for which they are not intended), but as a legal legend about plaintiff stupidity rewarded by the courts at the expense of a naive manufacturer who failed to place an explicit warning on the product. In this, it mirrors a number of apocryphal lawsuit tales in which idiotic or even lawbreaking plaintiffs sought to sue others for the ill outcomes they brought upon themselves by their foolheaded actions.
While there has come to be a greater requirement upon manufacturers to affix to their products warning labels cautioning against certain uses for which the vendibles were not intended, those potential uses have to be reasonably foreseeable for liability for failure to warn to attach. More simply, not every screwball thing a foolish user might do with an object needs to be listed for a manufacturer to escape being held financially responsible for the item user's mishap.
As to whether there ever was such a lawsuit or accident, that 1978 article referred to above said of the tale, "No one can verify that this case actually occurred."
Barbara "trim line" Mikkelson
Last updated: 9 August 2007
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