United States must pay Puerto Rican who fell off mower

John O'Brien Sep. 25, 2012, 3:59pm

HATO REY, Puerto Rico (Legal Newsline) - A federal judge has awarded a Puerto Rican man who tried to drive a lawn mower up two planks and into a pickup truck $18,750 in a lawsuit against the United States government.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Dominguez apportioned 75 percent fault to Pedro Alfonso, who rejected warnings that his plan to drive the mower up a ramp was unsafe and fell. He was exchanging a damaged tractor he had previously purchased at PX Extra, a store located at Fort Buchanan.

The fall occurred in 2007.

"By lifting the mower, or one or both of the planks, counter to Alfonso's clear directive to push the mower, the PX Extra employees created reasonably foreseeable risks for Alfonso and thus breached its duty of reasonable care," Dominguez wrote.

"The... scenario is no different than a person elevating one side of a table only to then witness the objects resting on the table slide off the other side. An expertise in Newton's Laws is not required for a reasonable, prudent person to understand such a rudimentary level of physics."

The effort to put Alfonso's new tractor-style mower into his truck began with a forklift, though the fingers of it were too short.

Alfonso also could have backed his truck up to the loading dock, where employees could then push the mower into his truck. Instead, Alfonso proposed using a ramp made of two boards positioned at an angle from the ground to the back of the truck.

The mower was pushed to the top, but the blade deck got stuck where the ramps met the tailgate.

Alfonso decided to gas up the mower and power it up the ramp. Three store employees told Alfonso that his plan was too dangerous and he could get hurt, Dominguez wrote.

Warehouse foreman Luis Torres tried unsuccessfully to convince Alfonso to change his mind, while employee Arnold Santiago took pictures on his cell phone because he felt a need to document what was happening, Dominguez wrote.

When the mower became stuck again at the top of the ramp, Alfonso rocked forward to try to force it in the truck.

After asking for a push from an employee on the right side, Alfonso fell off the mower. The mower also fell, but missed Alfonso.

Dominguez ruled the federal government is liable for 25 percent of Alfonso's damages, which he determined were $75,000.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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