Farmer Brings Personal Injury Suit After CNH Tractor Incident

Brian Miller filed a lawsuit against CNH Industrial America LLC (CNH) after he was gravely injured in an accident involving a tractor the defendant manufactured. The plaintiff’s amended complaint, filed Nov. 6 in the District of Kansas, claims that the defective product and inadequate warnings caused the plaintiff to rely on an electronic parking brake (EPB) feature that did not function as promised.

The filing states that “CNH is a Delaware limited liability corporation whose sole member is Case New Holland Industrial, Inc., which is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Racine, Wisconsin.” Reportedly, CNH designs, manufactures, markets, and sells farm equipment.

The complaint explains that Miller is a dairy farmer domiciled in Reno County, Kansas. The family business purchased a previously-owned New Holland T7.270 Autocommand tractor in December 2015, and with it received a CNH operating manual. Miller and his father intended to use the T7.270 tractor in their dairy operation.

The complaint explains that one of the T7.270 tractor’s features is that the “EPB will automatically engage at key-off or if the operator leaves the seat,” as described in the operating manual. However, the filing contends, this is untrue based on the events of Oct. 23, 2018.

That afternoon, the plaintiff claims that he was operating the T7.270 tractor while pulling a seed drill. Miller was allegedly traveling at a speed of less than 5 mph as he planted wheat. He saw debris in the field ahead and decided to clear it before proceeding.

He then “moved the hydrostat /throttle to the zero or near-zero position and stood up out of the seat to move the debris,” saw the requisite icons appear on the display panel, and heard the alert tone sound. The complaint explains that the plaintiff, having “heard these, as he had on previous occasions… understood them to signify the EPB was applying, and [] believed it would apply – bringing the tractor to a stop.”

Yet, the complaint claims that as Miller cleared the debris, the T7.270 tractor struck him from behind. He was reportedly pulled under the machine and run over by the seed drill, resulting in numerous serious injuries. Allegedly, the tractor did not stop until a friend found it many hours later in a tree line one quarter of a mile from the incident, wheels still spinning.

Miller suffered many injuries including fractures, blood loss, and internal organ damage which required surgeries. The complaint alleges that to date, his medical bill has cost $1.7 million.

The complaint brings negligence, strict liability, breach of implied warranty of merchantability causes of action against CNH. Specifically, the complaint alleges that “with its defective product and warnings, Defendant acted toward the plaintiff with willful and wanton conduct. It knew that serious harm would arise from the defendant’s misconduct; it was aware of the likelihood of injury from a runaway tractor and its misleading warnings and instructions.” For relief, the plaintiff requests damages, including punitive damages to “deter Defendant from selling, designing and manufacturing this defective product and to motivate Defendant to correct the defects in its product.”

Finally, on Nov. 3, the court ordered the plaintiff to show cause why it should not dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In turn, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which the court found satisfactorily alleged facts sufficient to establish diversity jurisdiction.

The plaintiff is represented by Hite, Fanning & Honeyman L.L.P.