Mack Truck Cleared on Ex-Pitcher’s Strangulation Death

Mark Fidrych pitches for the Detroit Tigers in a June 16, 1977, game against the Toronto Blue Jays. A Massachusetts appeals court has dismissed a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the widow of the former Major League pitcher. Court records show the 54-year-old died of asphyxiation in 2009 after his clothing became tangled in a spinning piece of a dump truck he was working on. Ann Pantazis filed a lawsuit in 2012 against the makers of the truck and the spinning component, arguing they did not provide sufficient warnings. The court ruled unanimously on Nov. 27, 2017, the companies did provide warnings and the equipment had no design defects. (AP Photo/File)

(CN) – The widow of former Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark Fidrych, a 1976 rookie of the year who found strangled underneath his truck nearly a decade ago, has lost her negligence suit.

Fidrych returned home to his 107-acre farm in Northborough, Massachusetts, after five seasons in the Major League where he was known as “The Bird.”

He bought an incomplete Mack truck from a dealer in 1987 and converted the vehicle into a dump truck that he used to haul soil. Some of the modifications carry dangers, however, and cost Fidrych his life on April 13, 2009.

While 54-year-old Fidrych was working under the truck that morning, his clothes became caught in a spinning universal joint that was part of the mechanical system used to tilt the body of the truck.

The medical examiner ruled Fidrych’s death an accidental asphyxiation, and the widowed Ann Pantazis brought negligence claims in Massachusetts.

In addition to suing Mack Truck, Pantazis took aim at Dana Corp., which acquired the assets of Parker-Hannifin Corp., the company that manufactured truck’s power take-off equipment.

She accused the companies of failing to provide sufficient warnings about the danger the equipment, but Superior Court judges ruled in favor of each defendant at summary judgment.

A three-judge panel of the Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed unanimously on Monday.

“The components manufactured by the defendants included no design defects, and the risks posed by the assembled product arose out of the addition of other components and the decisions made, and actions taken, by downstream actors, the defendants had no duty to warn of those dangers,” Judge James Milkey wrote for the panel.

Pantazis had claimed that the manufacturers demonstrated the foreseeability of the risks posed by exposed auxiliary drive shafts and U-joints by providing various warnings that she claims were ultimately inadequate.

The warning sticker on the power take-off system said: “To prevent possible injury or death: Do not go underneath the vehicle with the engine running. Do not work near a rotating drive shaft to prevent getting caught or entangled.”

Mack Truck meanwhile took care to make its warnings more prominent in owner’s manuals over the years, and it added a specific warning about the risk of ‘death,’ not just ‘severe personal injury.’”

The court said there are some exceptions to duty-to-warn cases, but that Pantazis “has not demonstrated good cause to create an exception here.”

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