Ladders are a major cause of occupational deaths, and they are also a significant problem for those doing work around the home. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention report that falls are the No. 1 cause of unintentional injury deaths nationally, and nearly 45 percent of all deadly falls over the last 10 years have involved a ladder.
When an injury occurs at work as a result of a ladder fall, the person hurt will likely want to explore a workers’ compensation claim. If the injury did not happen at work, the injured person will want to look into a claim against the manufacturer or distributor of the ladder, or perhaps the owner of the property.
In the recent case of Baugh v. Cuprum S.A., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld an $11 million verdict against the manufacturer of a ladder involved in a ladder fall. The plaintiff was a 224-pound man who fell off a five-foot, A-frame aluminum ladder while he was replacing several rusty screws in a gutter on his garage. He suffered serious bruising and bleeding in the frontal area of his brain, which in turn resulted in chronic seizures, dementia, and quadriplegia. His cognitive ability is severely impaired, and he will no longer live a normal life.
His wife filed a lawsuit on his behalf against the manufacturer of the ladder. She alleged there was a defect in the design and asserted strict liability and negligence. She argued the ladder wasn’t strong enough to safely support someone at or near 200 pounds. Furthermore, she claimed a reasonable alternative design would have prevented the incident altogether.
The defense, however, argued the ladder was designed to effectively support someone weighing up to 200 pounds and that the incident occurred because the plaintiff stood too high on the ladder, using the paint shelf to help support himself.
The case went to trial, and the jurors found in the manufacturer’s favor. However, the case was remanded for a new trial after it was revealed a model ladder was improperly given to jurors for examination during deliberations.
The case then went through a second trial, during which a number of experts testified on the plaintiff’s behalf, including a mechanical engineer who opined, based on centuries-old math principles, that the ladder would have been able to hold a 200-pound person exerting additional pressure if the ladder had thicker legs and longer gussets (the metal bars that provide bracing supports and connect the leg to the step). Another mechanical engineer provided testimony regarding causation, asserting the plaintiff was facing the house, using the ladder on his concrete driveway, and standing on the third step (the highest intended), but the ladder tipped right, and the too-short gusset couldn’t support the plaintiff’s weight.
The defendant presented contrary testimony, but ultimately, the jurors in the second trial decided the case in favor of the plaintiff, awarding $11 million.
On appeal, the Seventh DCA affirmed. Although the defendant challenged the admission of the expert witness testimony, the court found the real argument was with the weight given it by the trial court. The truth was that a reasonable jury could have found in the plaintiff’s favor, and there was also sufficient evidence that a feasible alternative design existed, and the accident was more likely attributable to the original defect in design than its improper use. Therefore, the award was upheld.
Contact the Carolina personal injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Baugh v. Cuprum S.A., Jan. 11, 2017, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Wallis v. Brainerd Baptist Church – Duty of Facility to Acquire or Use Defibrillator, Jan. 13, 2017, Charlotte Personal Injury Lawyer Blog