Fact Check

Lawn Mower as Hedge Trimmer

Plaintiff who cuts off fingers using a lawn mower as a hedge trimmer sues manufacturer.

Published July 29, 2007


Legend:   Plaintiff who cuts off fingers using a lawn mower as a hedge trimmer sues manufacturer for warning label failure and wins.


[Burden, 2003]

An orthopod friend of mine relates the following true story.

He was called to the ER one day to assess a man who had cut four fingers off his right hand.

When asked the mechanism of injury, the victim explained he had been mowing his lawn and realized his hedge needed trimming.

Not owning a hedge trimmer he lifted the lawn mower up and was using this to snip off unwanted foliage.

Unfortunately, after brief success he caught his fingers in the blade. The digits were subsequently re-implanted.

About one week later my buddy once again was called to the ER to attend an accident.

Another man had lost four digits on his right hand in exactly the same pattern as the patient the previous week.

When asked how it happened the fellow replied:

"Well, I was driving by this house last week and I saw this guy trimming his hedge with a lawn mower..."

[Collected on the Internet, July 2007]

This is an old rumor that deals with a business ethics legend. A man was using his lawn mower to trim his hedge. He lost control of the mower and subsequently, he got his hand cut off. There was a huge suit
because there was no notice on the mower not to use it to trim a hedge.

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,

usually as the account of a case dealt with by a medical colleague, but occasionally phrased as a first-person narrative voiced by the attending physician.

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

  Sources Sources:

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Choking Doberman.

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1984.   ISBN 0-393-30321-7   (pp. 160-162).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Mexican Pet.

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1986.   ISBN 0-393-30542-2   (p. 164).

    Burden, George.   "Monkey See."

    Medical Post.   1 July 2003   (p. 27).

    Leach, Michael.   "More Power!"

    Columbus Dispatch.   9 October 1999   (p. H10).

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