The lawsuit was filed in December 2012 by the son of Frank Wright, an 88 year-old who was fatally burned while cleaning up his yard before guests came for Christmas. After a five-day trial, the verdict was returned last week by a federal jury in Virginia.
According to the lawsuit, Wright was operating the lawn mower under normal conditions, when the fuel line spilled gas and it exploded, engulfing him in flames.
He was able to crawl 20 feet from the mower, but his wife was unable to extinguish the flames. By the time paramedics arrived, they could not revive him, according to The Virginian-Pilot.
Five months earlier, a similar incident occurred in Indiana. The fire broke out just after the mower was placed in a garage. No one was injured, but a house burned to the ground.
The incident was never reported to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC). No recalls were issued and no warnings were given to nearly 18,000 owners of the mowers. Instead, Ryobi quietly offered owners a replacement fuel tank with a more secure fuel line on mowers sold between 2006-2007 at Home Depot.
Ryobi and Home Depot were accused of negligence for failing to warn about the risk of explosion. Wright bought the mower from Home Depot in 2005. The next year, Ryobi started selling a new-and-improved model with a “better, safer fuel tank with a more secure fuel connector,” according to the lawsuit.
The jury did not find Home Depot liable for Wright’s death, but they did find Ryobi negligent for selling a mower with a plastic fuel tank and an insecure fuel line.
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