Doolittle v. Kiefer Built LLC and Maxum Indemnity

Matthew L. MacKelly

Case Conclusion Date:September 6, 2007

Practice Area:Defective / Dangerous Products

Outcome:Defense verdict

Description:The plaintiffs failed to recover against a horse trailer manufacturer and its insurer for allegedly manufacturing a defective trailer. The plaintiffs claimed damages for an injured sport horse, which fell out of a trailer while in transit. The plaintiffs claimed that the doors to the trailer were improperly constructed so as to allow the horse to fall out of the trailer. There was no expert testimony to support this theory except to say that, because the horse fell out, the doors were not strong enough. Any horse owner knows, however, that a frightened horse can do a great deal of damage with its strength, such as kicking out the rear doors. As the defense theorized, horse trailers are designed so that, if the horse is properly secured with a rope (or even a "trailer tie"), the trailer with multiple stalls have mechanisms that would otherwise prevent a horse from doing the alleged damage and falling out. This trailer was a "slant load" trailer with two stalls, front and rear. To make a long story short, the first thing the plaintiffs did wrong was put the horse in the rear stall, which allowed the trailer to sway more than if the horse was put in the front stall, closer to the hitch. The second thing the plaintiffs did wrong was to leave the rear divider folded and stowed against the trailer wall instead of unfolding it and and latching it's end to the center area at the rear of the trailer, which would have substantially forced the horse be physically be standing at a "slant" and not have the ability to roam the entire rear of the trailer. The defense believed that the horse was given too much room in the rear of the trailer, which caused the horse exaggerated the trailer's movements when in transit. This caused the horse to become frightened. The plaintiffs either failed to tie the rope from horse's halter to the stall's tie ring or gave the rope too much slack. So, when the horse was spooked, it had too much room to move and was able to kick the doors open. The next substantial thing the plaintiffs did wrong was one of the plaintiffs (the husband – an engineer – followed the trailer in his car) testified that, after the horse fell out of the trailer, the horse was dragged a certain distance. When the he testified about how far away from the trailer the horse was when being dragged, he testified about how rope's length. By knowing the trailer's dimensions and how high the tie ring was from the trailer floor, Matt was able to use the Pythagorean Theorem (a² + b² = c²) to prove that the rope was not near as long as the plaintiff testified; and that, according to the plaintiff's testimony as to the rope's length, the rope was not long enough for the horse to have fallen out of the trailer and simultaneously be attached to the halter or the tie ring. Further, this analysis proved that the horse could not have been dragged along the ground as the plaintiff had testified. The jury ultimately believed that the plaintiffs were negligent in failing to properly securing the horse. Because the plaintiffs did not recover anything, the defendants were awarded litigation costs related to the defense of the case.