We had a foot and a half of snow today in New York. Today was the day I was going to try out my brand-new snowblower. For years I had resisted getting a snowblower, believing that shoveling was good for me. Last year we had especially large snowfall and I decided to take the plunge and buy a 22 inch gas powered dual-stage snowblower made by Sears.

Before today, I made sure to read the owner's manual twice. I filled the snowblower with gas and tried it out, just to make sure I knew how it operated and how to work the controls. When I awoke this morning I felt like a kid in a candy store. I couldn't wait to go out and play with my new toy. I pulled the snowblower out of the garage and it started right up without a problem. It was actually a lot of fun. I had been using it for about an hour when I decided to clear a path toward the door. We have a thick doormat and apparently I got underneath the doormat and the next thing I knew, I heard an immediate grinding and I shut off the power and propulsion. I turned the machine off and removed emergency key.

As I stepped around the front of the snowblower I realized that the doormat got pulled into the auger and was now firmly fixed there. No matter how hard I pulled, I couldn't budge the mat out. This was a real bummer. I didn't have much left to do, but this really threw a monkey wrench into my plans. I wheeled the snowblower into the sun and decided to leave it there for an hour hoping that the sun would melt some of the snow, making it easier to remove.

I remembered while reading the owner's manual there were multiple warnings saying "Never stick your hand into the auger or the impeller to dislodge foreign objects or snow or ice." In fact, the snowblower comes with a 10 inch hard plastic stick designed specifically to loosen snow and ice from within the auger and impeller shaft.

An hour later I returned to the snowblower and began to tug on the doormat which had become wedged inside the snowblower. Luckily, a large piece of it was still outside which gave me the leverage to pull and immediately loosen it. Thankfully, I was able to free it up completely. This was good news. I started the snowblower and finished up 15 minutes later, really pleased to see how well the snowblower had done today.

Later this evening however I learned a terrible story involving a man in my town who, while using his snow blower, with the blades spinning, stuck his hand into the auger area in an attempt to loosen and free snow and ice. Without even reading the headline of this blog post, you can imagine what happened next. Four of his fingers were cut off instantly. He was rushed to the hospital and hopefully trauma surgeons will be able to successfully reattach his fingers where he can regain movement and sensation.

I reread the owner's manual at the dinner table and counted literally 50 warning signs throughout the manual describing how dangerous this device is if not used properly. It clearly says that if there is something stuck, then the unit is to be turned off, the emergency key removed, and in some instances the spark plug is to be removed to prevent an accidental engine ignition that might cause the engine to start up while you are fixing or repairing it.

The reason why snowblower manufacturers create these manuals is because they have significant experience with people who use them inappropriately and have suffered significant injury. The warnings are designed to be read and followed. Where a user disregards the warnings, then an attempt to bring a lawsuit against the manufacturer for failing to properly warn will be extremely difficult to prove.

I feel really bad for the gentleman who lost his fingers today. It's also a good thing I did not learn about this tragedy when my doormat got stuck in my snowblower. When using a snowblower, the best advice is to read the owners manual thoroughly, be totally familiar with the equipment and exercise caution at all times.
Gerry Oginski
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NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer
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