A man who suffered catastrophic injuries due to a ladder fall emerged victorious in his personal injury lawsuit against the manufacturer of the ladder from which he fell. The $11 million verdict he won at trial will stand, following a recent review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
In Baugh v. Cuprum, defendant manufacturer appealed the trial court’s refusal to grant a new trial on the grounds the district court wrongly allowed two of plaintiff’s expert witnesses to testify about critical issues. However, the appellate court ruled that both methodologies used by the two expert witnesses were adequate and most of defendant’s complaints were regarding the weight given to that expert witness testimony, rather than the admissibility. Defendant also argued it was entitled to a judgment in its favor as a matter of law because plaintiff failed to show the ladder was unreasonably dangerous and that this issue was the most likely cause of plaintiff’s accident. Here again, though, the court found there was sufficient evidence that demonstrated the accident was more likely caused by the ladder’s original design defect as opposed to any wrongful use of it, and there was also enough evidence that a reasonable alternative design existed. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment.
Although multi-million dollar verdicts may not always be the norm, ladder falls are quite common. In fact, they are increasing. Between 1990 and 2005, the American Journal of Preventative Medicine reported the number of ladder-related injuries in the U.S. rose by 50 percent, with almost 1 in 10 victims needing to be hospitalized. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reports that 500,000 people are treated every year for ladder-related injuries and about 300 of those are fatal. These injuries are estimated to cost us all approximately $11 billion a year.
Among workers, about 20 percent of all fall-related injuries involve ladders.
Improper leveling and over-reaching are a significant cause of ladder accidents, but certainly defective design can play a role as well. This is particularly true if the ladder fails to hold the amount of weight the manufacturer promises. That was the situation in Baugh.
Plaintiff was on a five-foot, A-frame aluminum ladder while working on his garage gutter when he fell. He suffered significant bruising and bleeding to his brain, which caused him to suffer dementia and seizures. He was also rendered quadriplegic and unable to carry out routine functions of daily living.
Plaintiff’s wife filed a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer on his behalf, alleging design defect under theories of negligence and strict liability. She asserted the ladder wasn’t designed to withstand at or near 200 pounds (plaintiff weighed 224 pounds) and that there was a feasible alternative design that would have made it safer. Specifically, as expert witnesses testified, defendant could have lowered the gussets and thicker legs.
Defendant argued the fall was plaintiff’s fault because he stood on the pail shelf, which is clearly marked as not for standing. Plaintiff denied this.
Ultimately, jurors sided with plaintiff, awarding $11 million in damages. The appeals court ruled the trial court’s denial of defense motion for a new trial was based on sound legal principles.
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Baugh v. Cuprum, Jan. 11, 2017, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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