Friday, December 19th, 2008
Crown appeals lawsuit
By Margie Wuebker
Officials at Crown Equipment Corporation in New Bremen will appeal a recent Maine Supreme Court ruling and seek a new trial in a case stemming from a 2003 industrial accident that claimed the life of a Maine resident operating a Crown-manufactured truck.
John Maxa, Crown vice president and general counsel, told The Daily Standard attorneys for the company will file the required paperwork in a matter of days. Approval of that appeal in federal court would result in a new trial, Maxa added.
A jury awarded $4.2 million to the family of Thomas Brown at the conclusion of a 2006 trial stemming from a lawsuit filed by Brown's widow, Claire. Crown appealed this decision to Maine Supreme Court justices, where Crown attorneys argued the company should not have to pay the widow.
Justices rejected the appeal, and Crown is now appealing that decision.
"They (supreme court justices) were asked to answer a question of law," Maxa said. "They went beyond what was requested and that is a big part of our argument."
Crown contends a U.S. Federal Court judge erred in his instructions to jurors during the initial case. During the appeal, Maxa said justices discussed the case interjecting their own opinions.
"That's where we think some mistakes were made," he added. "Any extra work should be determined by a new jury."
Maxa said Crown is no stranger to litigation and the company does not make a habit of releasing such information. But in this case, the plaintiff's lawyer Terry Garmey, reportedly hired a public relations firm to provide the case details to the media.
"We had five jury trials in 2008," Maxa said. "They were not identical to this case but involved the same truck, and we won all five."
Maxa stated Crown has a strong commitment to product safety. "If we make a mistake, we take care of it, but if we haven't (made a mistake), we defend our product."
The company reportedly made retrofit kits available for the Legacy truck and voluntarily contacted customers. Prime Tanning of Berwick, Maine, where Brown worked, became the third owner of the truck, having purchased it through someone other than Crown. Prime Tanning claimed it was never notified of the retrofit kit. However, an operator's manual on the equipment warned of possible risks.
Brown suffocated after being pinned between a shelving rack and the dashboard of the "stand-up" lift truck. Attorneys for his widow claim the accident could have been prevented with an inexpensive adaptation had Crown told Prime Tanning about the problem.
Maxa said Brown's death was a tragic accident, adding the truck was not defective and complied with OSHA regulations at the time of the accident.