Local first responder suing lawn mower manufacturer after being badly burned

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The fire last August burned Chris Vannoy over half of his body, when flames burst through his detached shed.

Now, one year later, Vannoy is placing blame for the blaze on MTD Products, an Ohio company that makes lawn mowers under several brand names.

The federal court documents obtained by KETK News describe in detail how Vannoy says he was injured.

The filing against MTD claims Vannoy drove his Cub Cadet Lawn Mower into his shed after he finished mowing. He then turned it off and walked outside, closing the door. Shortly after, he noticed smoke coming from the shed. The suit says Vannoy went to find out the cause of the smoke, and was immediately engulfed in flames when he opened the door.

Here’s how Vannoy’s fire captain described him to KETK News at the time.

“They’ve upgraded him to from serious condition to stable and he’s doing well. He’s being able to breath the whole time, his airway was never compromised, he’s getting better with a lot of family support from fire service and his family– and law enforcement also,” said David Gerald, with the Arp Volunteer Fire Department.

Vannoy and his fiance, who helped put out the fire with a water hose, say a defective fuel system on the Club Cadet caused the fire.

According to documents…

“The poorly designed fuel/vent system allows pressure to build in the gasoline tank, and the fuel and fuel system to become improperly pressurized. This defect creates a condition where gasoline and gasoline vapors can expel out of the fuel system onto hot exhaust system components.”

-Federal Court documents

Riding lawn mowers are a staple in East Texas, so we did some research, and it turns out this isn’t the first time they have been involved in litigation.

Just a few examples; a class action settlement in 2018 against Craftsman riding lawn tractors, another against Toro for their 2014 model time cutter. Both were allegedly a fire risk due to fuel-related problems.

We asked East Texas attorney Randy Roberts, who has 40+ years of experience with product liability cases, for his take on Vannoy’s lawsuit.

“The issue in that case is going to be why the fuel was leaking,” said Roberts. “Was it because of a manufacturing defect, was it because of a poor design of the fuel system, or was it just leaking because the product hadn’t been properly maintained. We have a lot of poorly maintained lawn mowers in our community. What caused this fire needs to be determined by a jury.”

And if a jury sides with Vannoy, Roberts says not only could the mower be recalled for public safety, but MTD Products could be expected to pay up.

“Have they put forward the funds to make up for what that person lost in their life and have they put forward the funds to compensate that person for what cannot be replaced,” said Roberts.

Such as Vannoy’s ability to live independently, continue his career as a first-responder and, someday, finish his long and painful recovery.

MTD Products sent us this statement…

“MTD was made aware of the incident shortly after it happened and has been involved since. As this is still under investigation, MTD is not able to comment further on the matter.”

-Erica Creech, MTD Products

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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