ROANOKE, Va. – Jurors who awarded $2 million to a couple whose 4-year-old son was run over and killed by a riding lawn mower said they wanted to send a message to the industry.
Justin Simmons was killed in April 2004 in Daleville, north of Roanoke, when a mower operated at his daycare center rolled backward while going up a slope and over the child.
The Roanoke Circuit Court jury returned its verdict Wednesday after 10 hours of deliberations, naming the mower's manufacturer, MTD Products Corp., liable for the death.
"We're just hoping that we make a difference," juror Theresa Reed said. "We just want the industry to see that there's a problem that needs to be fixed."
An attorney for MTD Products Corp. said the Cleveland company will appeal the verdict.
"I find it incredulous that a jury no longer cares about common sense and personal responsibility," the attorney, John Fitzpatrick, said.
The jury held MTD responsible for not designing a mower that automatically stops its blades whenever it rolls backward. No such mower exists or has ever been tested, Fitzpatrick said.
Jurors awarded $500,000 each to Ron and Kristie Simmons, Justin's parents, and $1 million to his 3-year-old brother, Josh.
Day care provider Roberta Reedy, who had been watching Justin, his brother and two other children, had gone inside to change Josh's diaper when she heard her husband, Orvil, scream. Orvil Reedy didn't see at first that he'd hit the boy and tried to restart the mower, then saw Justin's feet sticking out from under the triple-blade deck.
The company argued Orvil Reedy ignored safety warnings.
The Simmonses are seeking an out-of-court settlement with the Reedys.