18 February 2011

robbie payne v brett gardner state supremes restore some sanity in rapides ambulance chasers gone wild case

Payne v Gardner Supreme Court
This litigation arises from an accident that occurred in rural Rapides Parish on March 9, 2004, when thirteen-year-old Henry Goudeau climbed onto the moving pendulum of an oil well pump and attempted to “ride” the pendulum.

As the pendulum continued its upward motion, his pants unfortunately became entangled in other parts of the pump, resulting in severe personal injuries.

Henry’s mother, Robbie Payne, subsequently filed suit against the manufacture of the pumping unit, Lufkin, among others.

In response, Lufkin filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting it was not liable for Henry’s injuries because it did not “anticipate” at the time it designed and manufactured the product in the 1950s that it would be “used” for recreational purposes–“riding”–by persons, including teenagers.

Lufkin, in support thereof, filed a Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, which stated Lufkin manufactured the pump for the sole purpose of extracting oil, and not as a ride, as well as the deposition of Jon Tarver, the coowner of the company that owned the oil pump, who testified to the same.

In opposition, Ms. Payne argued there existed a foreseeable risk children would attempt to play on the oil well pump and submitted trial court cases from California, Texas, and Oklahoma in which children had been injured while attempting to “ride” on an oil well pumping unit and the deposition testimony of Brett Gardner, regarding a fatal accident in Shreveport involving teenagers attempting to ride a pumping unit.

The District Court granted summary judgment, finding plaintiff “failed to allege any facts that the pump was unreasonably dangerous in itself and for the purpose for which it was intended,” i.e., pumping oil:

At the time of the accident, the minor was thirteen years of age; he should have known not to attempt to ride the oil pump.

The standard is that of a reasonable person.

The oil well, in itself, was not unreasonably dangerous for its reasonably anticipated use; because it’s anticipated use was for pumping oil and not riding.
third circuit opinion (gives more background) -- amy dissent