No good ever comes when a fast-moving, sharp blade from a lawn mower meets soft human flesh.
It happens with shocking frequency, two recent studies say.
A comprehensive study led by Johns Hopkins Hospital researchers found that about 6,400 Americans are injured each year by lawn mowers. Most of the injuries require hospitalization, and cost about $37,000 per patient. The study was published in September 2018 by the journal Public Health Reports.
“Despite consumer education programs and warning labels, lawnmower injuries in the United States remain a serious public health concern,” said Dr. Deborah Schwengel of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine, in a statement. She is the study’s senior author.
Researchers combed data from the U.S. Nationwide Emergency Department Sample for lawn-mower-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations from 2006 through 2013. From that, they estimated that 51,151 lawn-mower injuries over the eight-year study period.
The most common types of injuries were:
- Lacerations (which occurred in 47 percent of the injuries).
- Fractures (22 percent).
- Amputations (22 percent).
The injuries were costly, too, the researchers found. Emergency room visits averaged $2,482 per patient, and those who were admitted were charged an average of $36,987 per patient.
Men suffered 85 percent of the injuries.
Children 4 and under are far more likely to suffer foot injuries or amputations, while older children and adult were most likely to be injured on the hand or arm. That suggests to researchers that small children playing in the yard got run over by mowers while their older siblings and parents were likely injured reaching into the blades, by accident or to clear debris.
“Changes to nationwide industry safety standards are needed to reduce the frequency and severity of these preventable injuries,” the researchers concluded.
13 children injured each day
A second recent study of lawn mower injuries, by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, focused on children.
The study, published in 2017 in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, found that a staggering 212,258 children under 18 were treated in a U.S. emergency room for lawn mower-related injuries over the 25 years from 1990 to 2014.
While they found the number of children injured by lawn mowers fell significantly in recent years, still on average, lawn mower injuries send 13 children a day to the hospital. Almost half the injuries they found in children under six were burns to the hands, caused by a child touching a hot motor.
That study’s authors also concluded the lawn mower manufacturers could do more to prevent injuries.
“While we are happy to see that the number of lawn mower-related injuries has declined over the years, it is important for families to realize that these injuries still occur frequently during warm weather months,” said Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in a press release. “Improvements in lawn mower design during the last few decades are likely an important contributing factor in the decrease in injuries. We would like to see manufacturers continue to improve design and include additional needed safety features on all mowers.”
In particular, the center advocates for better shields to prevent hands and feet from contacting blades, and for riding mowers to be prevented from going in reverse unless an override switch is thrown. That override switch should be located behind the driver’s seat, forcing operators to look behind them before they can back up.
Parents’ role in mower safety
Parents should also takes steps to prevent lawn-mower accidents, said Ryan Farley, co-founder of Lawnstarter, which operates in the San Diego area.
“Sadly, we see these awful accidents ramp up every spring,” Farley said. He suggests making it a habit to walk the yard before mowing it to pick up any loose debris that a spinning blade could turn into a projectile. And he warns, “Never, ever let a child ride in your lap while operating a riding mower.”
It isn’t just do-it-yourselfers who are hurt by lawn mowers, Farley points out. Landscape company employees operating large commercial mowers sometimes have accidents.
“It’s a common-enough accident that OSHA (the U.S. Occupational Safety Hazard Administration) tracks lawn mower injuries separately,” he says. “Their data says that in 2018 alone, seven professionals died in lawn mower accidents.”
Minimizing the damage
If you or a loved one are injured by a lawn mower, here are the steps to minimize the damage, both physical and monetary.
Of course, first seek immediate medical attention. But as soon as you can start gathering documentation, which will be important for insurance purposes and in planning for a potential lawsuit.
- If possible, take photos and video of the injury. Document not only the injury, but the equipment that was used. Were there any witnesses? A neighbor, perhaps? Get names and numbers of any witnesses. As much specific information as possible is helpful to both insurance companies and lawyers.
The photos are unlikely to go in the family scrapbook, but they will be helpful in the next step:
- Call a personal injury lawyer, who may be able to file a lawsuit. You want to make sure the attorney is licensed in the state where the injury occurred, and a lawyer whose practice focuses on personal injuries.
The mower might have been defective, or might not have been built to regulations. That could give you a legal case against the manufacturer.
In the United States, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission established regulations for power mowers in 1982. According to the agency, “All walk-behind power rotary lawn mowers manufactured since then must meet the mandatory safety requirements designed to reduce hand and foot contact with the moving blade.”
Among the rules are requirements for foot shields and a mandate that blades must stop spinning three seconds after the kill switch is thrown or the power bar is released. If the manufacturer of the lawn mower did not meet the requirements, you may have a better chance of winning your case.
- Keep current with your medical appointments.
- Your attorney will handle the rest. Experts say typical personal injury cases like this take about six to nine months before they settle. Most often, attorneys on personal injury cases work on a contingency basis, so you will not be out any money upfront. California contingency fees are generally in the range of 30 percent to 35 percent of any settlement.