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St. Petersburg widow sues lawn mower company in husband's 2007 death

ST. PETERSBURG — As was custom, Deborah Green's husband had called that morning during her break as a customer service representative for AAA.

He was stuffy and she promised to drop off an over-the-counter remedy when she got off in the afternoon. When her cell phone indicated he was calling again about two hours later, she figured he'd gotten impatient.

Someone else was on the line when she answered. Get to the hospital, they said. Her husband, Osby Green, 58, had been in an accident. There, she got the shocking news. The man she'd married almost 25 years earlier was dead, killed while cutting grass as an employee for the city's parks department.

Two years after his death, Deborah Green, 54, is suing the manufacturer of the Toro Groundmaster 7200 lawn mower her husband was using that day and Wesco Turf, Inc., its distributor. Her suit alleges negligence and that the equipment "was defective and unreasonably dangerous."

The meat of the claim, said Tampa lawyer Jeffrey "Jack" Gordon, is the companies' "failure to warn potential end-users of its hazards."

Gordon said he has notified the city of St. Petersburg that it may become a party in the suit "if the manufacturer asserts that they may have otherwise contributed to the injuries."

City attorney Mark Winn said he couldn't comment because of the pending legal action.

Deborah Green's lawyer said nationally there have been other deaths and injuries involving the same equipment and other claims have been made against Toro.

The company can't comment on the suit but is "deeply saddened'' by the accident, said Branden Happel, public relations manager for Toro.

"The safety of our customers is always of utmost concern. We never want to see a customer become injured operating our equipment," he said in an e-mail. "For that reason, we conduct extensive testing and apply high safety standards to all our machines. We also encourage customers to learn as much as possible about the safe operation of their machine."

He said the case will be mediated in September.

Osby Green's accident occurred on July 9, 2007, his first day back at work after vacation. The Valdosta, Ga., native was using a riding lawn mower to cut grass near a small ledge next to a storm canal at Burlington Avenue and 53rd Street N when the mower flipped and fell into the canal. He was trapped under the water. Two neighbors rushed to help but couldn't lift the mower from his body. He was pronounced dead at St. Petersburg General Hospital.

A police report said the water in the 25-foot-wide ditch was about two and a half feet deep and that it appeared Green "was operating the mower close to the retaining wall and the mower flipped over trapping him underneath it."

Deborah Green said she hired legal help to sort through the myriad legal matters and steady flow of phone calls after her husband's death.

"I really didn't want to deal with it. And another thing, I didn't know exactly what had happened. I still to this day don't know what happened, because he had been doing those yards for years,'' she said.

Her husband, who had worked for the city for 26 years, was a "quiet, good man, a hard worker, very good provider,'' she said. "Everybody loved him because he had a big, beautiful smile."

They would have been married 27 years on Sept. 17, she said.

"It's not even about the money with me, but I've still got to live. I've got to take care of everything that needs to be taken care of. I wish I really didn't have to get a dime. I would rather have him back.''

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at (727) 892-2283 or wmoore@sptimes.com.

St. Petersburg widow sues lawn mower company in husband's 2007 death 08/18/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 19, 2009 4:47pm]
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