Jury Sides with Rancher, Insurer in Montana Tractor Case

February 7, 2006

A jury has ruled that an international farm machinery company must pay a Broadwater County, Mont., rancher and his insurance company nearly $120,000 over a tractor that caught fire and burned nearly seven dozen acres of a hay field.

The six-person jury deliberated for roughly three hours before reaching its verdict late Wednesday afternoon in favor of Larry Richtmyer and Nationwide insurance.

Richtmyer claimed that a hydraulic fuel leak and electrical problems led to the August 2001 fire that destroyed his New Holland tractor and haybine.

The jury ruled that New Holland North America Inc. must reimburse Nationwide $78,591, the amount it paid Richtmyer for the ruined tractor, and pay the rancher $40,000 for other losses.

“He testified he suffered additional losses, such as the $250 deductible that he had to pay, $570 for fencing that burned up, and when the tractor burned, he didn’t have one for five months, during which time he needed one for feeding cattle and moving hay, all the things that ranchers do,” Stefan Wall, Richtmyer’s attorney, said Thursday.

“Curiously, we requested damages of $112,341, but the jury awarded us $118,000, so they found the reasonable damages were actually more than the amount we requested.”

Bill Bronson, who represented New Holland, said his clients are considering whether to pursue the matter further.

“We certainly would have liked a different verdict, but all we can do after a trial is to evaluate all options,” Bronson said.

New Holland claims that in August 2001, Richtmyer’s son and his hired hand left the tractor idling in the field while they went to town to get a replacement belt for it, and discovered the fire when they returned. The company says the fire also could have been sparked by a rock in the field.

Lawyers for Richtmyer and his insurance company discount those theories, noting that two other New Holland TV 140 tractors were involved in similar fires in Montana.

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