A man injured when a tractor rolled over him has been awarded approximately $2.2 million by an Allegheny County jury.
Plaintiff Michael Huchko sued Baker & Sons Equipment for allegedly faulty maintenance of the tractor’s brake system. The jury found Baker & Sons 75% negligent and Huchko 25% negligent.
According to the plaintiff’s pretrial memorandum, Huchko “was formerly an employee at Land Clearing Specialists. His job required him to use a Blount ‘Hydro-Ax’ tractor to clear a field on May 29, 2014. In the midst of this job, plaintiff exited the tractor to get tools to change the tractor’s ‘head.’ Before exiting the tractor, plaintiff engaged the parking brake lever. The tractor was parked on a slight incline, but within the limits of the tractor. As plaintiff was walking away, he noticed that the tractor began to ‘creep’ backwards down the incline. Plaintiff attempted to climb into the tractor’s cab to stop the tractor from rolling into a nearby ditch.”
Court papers continued, “As he was climbing into the tractor, the tractor rolled backwards again. … The tractor rolled over plaintiff until finally coming to a stop.”
Huchko was taken by helicopter to the hospital where he was treated for several severe injuries. He ultimately underwent 31 surgeries.
“Post-accident testing revealed that the tractor’s parking brake was not operating properly. It had last been serviced by defendant Baker & Sons,” Huchko’s court papers said. “Baker failed to correctly reassemble the brake cable. This prevented the brake from holding the tractor when it was parked on even a slight incline. Baker otherwise failed to properly ensure the brake system was in proper working order during its various service calls.”
However, the defendant said that Huchko was responsible for his causing his own injuries.
“Plaintiff parked the machine on a slope, contrary to the instructions and common sense,” Baker & Sons’ court papers said.
“Defendant Baker & Sons sold the machine to land clearing specialists,” court papers said, “and performed routine maintenance on the machine when asked to do so. The information revealed in this discovery reveals that Baker & Sons last worked on the machine Nov. 27, 2013, when they replaced the clutch.”
The defendant added, “plaintiff suffered multiple crush injuries in the accident but has made a remarkable recovery. Defendant denies any and all liability to the plaintiff.”
Daniel Hessel and Jim Golkow of Golkow Hessel represented Huchko.
“The entire case hinged on whether a jury would believe that a single loose jam nut caused the parking brake to fail on a 33,000 pound tractor and, if so, whether that loose nut could be traced back to the work the defendant performed on the brake nine months earlier,” Hessel said in an email. ”The turning point came when the defendant’s liability expert admitted that both of these scenarios were 51% likely—effectively admitting plaintiff met his burden of proof.”
Golkow also noted another crucial point in the trial.
“During the direct examination of the treating trauma surgeon, Dr. Ivan Tarkin, the doctor told the jury that he sees the ‘worst of the worst,’ and that Mike Huchko’s injuries were the ‘worst of worst,’” Golkow said. ”The doctor got choked up, and told the jury that he got the chills just seeing Mike in the courtroom looking well, and learning that Mike returned to work in nine months to provide for his six children.”
Baker & Sons is represented by Joseph Hudock of Summers, McDonnell, Hudock, Guthrie & Rauch in Pittsburgh. Hudock declined to comment.