571 S.W.2d 867 (Tex. 1978), B-7440, Gonzales v. Caterpillar Tractor Co.

Docket Nº:B-7440.
Citation:571 S.W.2d 867
Party Name:Santiago GONZALES et al., Petitioners, v. CATERPILLAR TRACTOR COMPANY, Respondents.
Case Date:October 11, 1978
Court:Supreme Court of Texas
 
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Page 867

571 S.W.2d 867 (Tex. 1978)

Santiago GONZALES et al., Petitioners,

v.

CATERPILLAR TRACTOR COMPANY, Respondents.

No. B-7440.

Supreme Court of Texas.

October 11, 1978

Page 868

Page Keeton, Austin, Gochman & Weir, Warren Weir, John Scarzafava and Charles Herring, Jr., Clark, Thornton & Summers, W. Burl Brock, San Antonio, for petitioners.

Wiley, Plunkett, Gibson & Allen, Robert A. Allen and Ronald Hornberger, San Antonio, for respondents.

STEAKLEY, Justice.

Santiago Gonzales suffered back injuries when he fell from a step on a Caterpillar tractor. He brought this suit against Caterpillar alleging a design defect in the step and negligent design of the step. Judgment was rendered on the jury verdict in favor of Gonzales for $252,991.05. 1 On appeal by Caterpillar, the Court of Civil Appeals reversed and rendered judgment that Gonzales take nothing in his suit. The court held there was no evidence of either a design defect or of negligent design. 562 S.W.2d 573. We reverse the judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals and remand the cause to that court.

The Caterpillar product involved in this accident was a Model 941 "Traxcavator." It is a tractor designed to operate primarily as a front-end loader. A large shovel assembly

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is attached for lifting dirt and other material from the ground. The tractor is mounted on tread or tracks similar to those commonly seen on military tanks. It is designed to operate in muddy or other adverse conditions where wheeled vehicles would not be workable. The machine is controlled from a work station atop the vehicle which contains the operator's seat and the controls for steering and operating the shovel.

Ingress and egress to and from the work station is accomplished by use of a step mounted on the side of the Traxcavator. The step is located on the undercarriage and is made from a strip of "angle iron" or sheet metal bent into a "U" shape. The open ends of the "U" are welded to the Traxcavator between the upper and lower treads, so that only the narrow edge of the metal strip is used as the step. The rear portion of the "U" is approximately 10 inches across, and a depression of some 8 inches in width is cut in this portion. The purpose of the depression is to prevent the foot from slipping sideways and off the step. The step is designed so that it does not extend outward from the Traxcavator farther than the treads and it is necessary for the operator, while dismounting, to lean away from the vehicle to locate the step. Handholds or "grabirons" are mounted near the work station for the operator to utilize while mounting or dismounting.

Gonzales was dismounting the Traxcavator when this accident occurred. He testified that he was holding firmly to the handholds when he leaned back and placed his foot on the step; and that his foot slipped which caused him to fall. Gonzales was operating the machine at a "caliche pit" on the morning in question and he testified that the ground was very muddy. This testimony was corroborated by a co-worker. Gonzales and the co-worker also testified that mud collected by the track was carried over the step upon rotation of the tread, and that considerable quantities of the mud dropped on the step.

In his trial pleading, Gonzales alleged that the step was defective in four respects in design, and that Caterpillar was guilty of five separate acts of negligence in the design. The alleged defects in design were (1) the step could not be seen by the operator as he was dismounting; (2) the operator was required to lean away from the machine in order to reach the step when dismounting; (3) no adhesive or antiskid material was placed on the step to prevent slippage; and (4) the step was located in such position that mud and dirt adhering to the tread was deposited on the step as the tread revolved. The alleged acts of negligence were in designing the step in these respects, and additionally, in failing to alter the design and placement of the...

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