Nov. 28–The death of former Major League Baseball pitcher Mark Fidrych was not the fault of the truck manufacturing companies being sued by his widow, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled.
Fidrych, a Detroit Tigers pitcher known as “The Bird,” was found dead underneath the dump truck he used to haul soil on his Northborough farm on April 13, 2009. His clothing got caught in a spinning universal joint, which is part of the mechanical system that tilts the body of the truck.
The state medical examiner ruled that Fidrych’s death was accidental and caused by asphyxiation. He was 54 years old.
Fidrych’s widow, Ann Pantazis, filed a wrongful death suit in Worcester Superior Court in 2012, naming Mack Trucks, Inc., which manufactured the original, stripped-down version of the truck Fidrych owned, and Parker-Hannifin Corporation, which had acquired the assets of Dana Corporation. Dana manufactured a piece of equipment known as a “power take-off,” which was another part of the system used to tilt the dump body of Fidrych’s truck.
The state high court ruled on Monday in favor of those defendants, upholding the decision of Superior Court judges.
Fidrych had purchased the truck in 1987 and it lacked several parts. He installed other parts to transform the truck into a dump truck, according to the SJC ruling.
“As Fidrych’s accident illustrates, having an exposed auxiliary drive shaft and U-joint presents serious potential dangers, e.g., to someone working underneath the truck while the PTO is engaged,” the ruling reads. “It is uncontested that this system could have been designed and installed in a manner that alleviated such risks.”
The SJC also noted that the 112-page owner manual in Mack Trucks sold at the time included warnings in bold lettering that stated “No work or service should be performed or attempted on the P.T.O. and related units unless the engine is shut down. Always keep body parts and loose fitting clothing out of the range of these powerful components or serious injury may result.”
Dana also distributed warning stickers that cautioned drivers to not go underneath the vehicle with the engine running.
Both Mack and Dana made improvements to its warnings over the years. Dana even added a pictogram that depicts a human figure entangled in an exposed auxiliary drive shaft, the ruling reads.
“Resolving the case as we do, we have no occasion to consider the defendants’ other arguments, such as their claim that they had no duty to warn of the dangers posed by the exposed auxiliary drive shaft and U-joint in light of the obviousness of such risks, at least to someone with Fidrych’s presumed familiarity with the truck that he had owned for over twenty years,” the SJC wrote.
Fidrych won the the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1976 after he went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA for the Detroit Tigers. He played five seasons with the Tigers before retiring in 1983.
(c)2017 MassLive.com, Springfield, Mass.
Visit MassLive.com, Springfield, Mass. at www.masslive.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.