Federal District Court Delivers Favorable Decision For CNH Industrial America

Jury reaches unanimous decision after less than two hours

March 31, 2014

On March 14, 2014, an eleven member federal district court jury in Sioux Falls, South Dakota reached a unanimous decision in favor of CNH Industrial America LLC (CNH)  and against plaintiff North Star Mutual Insurance Company.  North Star Mutual Insurance Company a/s/o Kylan Meier v. CNH involved the total loss by fire of a CASE IH AF 9120 combine and header. North Star Mutual Insurance Company filed a subrogation action against CNH, claiming that the combine was defective. Plaintiff asserted strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty claims.

Plaintiff’s testifying experts were Chris Rallis (origin and cause) and Jeffrey Wingfield (design). CNH agreed that hot surface ignition in the engine compartment was the cause of the fire.  But, Mr. Rallis suggested that after the debris ignited the fire almost immediately involved the polyethylene fuel tank – a claim that CNH disputed. Mr. Wingfield suggested that the combine was defective because (1) the engine compartment floor pan was not thick enough to prevent punctures from thrown chopper blades, resulting in the transfer of crop debris from the straw chopper area to the engine compartment; (2) CNH failed to properly protect the exhaust manifold and turbo charger from debris accumulation, and (3) CNH utilized a polyethylene, instead of metal, fuel tank.

CNH presented evidence that the 2010 Case IH AF9120 combine was not defective or unsafe. The design of the combine minimized the risk of debris accumulation on the exhaust manifold and turbo charger. The polyethylene fuel tank was state of the art, and the entire engine compartment was involved in the fire before the fuel tank. And there was no evidence that slit in the engine compartment floor plan caused the accumulation of debris in the engine compartment. CNH also presented evidence that the owner/operator of the combine failed to follow proper maintenance and cleaning practices. 

The jury returned a unanimous defense verdict on behalf of CNH after less than two hours of deliberation, and the court entered a judgment in favor of CNH.  Nicholas C. Pappas and Maureen A. Bickley of Frost Brown Todd LLC represented CNH.