Thomas secures Defense Verdict in Products Liability Claim

Posted on: February 6th, 2020

The Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the jury’s dismissal of a lawsuit filed against Grefe & Sidney’s client, PGI International, and others in the Boone County District Court, Nationwide Agribusiness Insurance Company, as Subrogee of Farmers Cooperative Company v. Parker Hannifin Corporation, Squibb-Taylor Inc., Dalton Ag Products, Inc. and CNH Corp., a/k/a CNH America, LLC a/s/o DMI, Inc., Boone County, LACV039902.  This lawsuit has a complicated history.  Nationwide insured a central Iowa Cooperative that rented anhydrous ammonia application systems.  A central Iowa farmer rented such a system and while operating it was overcome by anhydrous ammonia escaping from a dislodged hose.  Nationwide settled claims of the decedent and his family for more than $4 million and then brought claims for contribution against a number of manufacturers of component parts of that application system.  PGI was defended in the action by Henry Harmon and Mark Thomas, of Grefe & Sidney.  The defendants jointly filed a Motion for Summary Judgment at the close of discovery asking the Court to dismiss the claim in its entirety because the plaintiff, Nationwide, had failed to fulfill the requirements of Iowa Code Section 668.7 which requires that before a contribution action is pursued, the entity pursuing contribution obtain a release of the claims against the entities from which contribution is sought.  The plaintiff appealed the decision and the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s decision regarding the insufficiency of the release, but remanded the case to the District Court for determination as to whether the Release could be reformed to include the named defendants.  After a trial on the reformation issue only, the district court granted the plaintiff’s request, reformed the Release to include the named defendants and the matter proceeded to trial in the spring of 2018.

Following a two week trial the jury returned a verdict in favor of all defendants finding that the Co-Op was 51% at fault and that the farmer who was applying the anhydrous ammonia was 49% at fault.  Nationwide appealed yet again arguing that the farmer’s fault should not have been included in the lawsuit and, in addition, evidence regarding the Cooperative’s OSHA obligations, and its failure to meet those obligations, was similarly inadmissible.  The Iowa Court of Appeals rejected all such arguments and affirmed the judgment.  The case was one of a handful of wrongful death products liability cases tried in Iowa in recent years.

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