Published on:

Stuhlmacher v. Home Depot – Defective Ladder Lawsuit Revived

When it comes to ladders, as with any tool, improper use, lack of adequate training or general bad practices can result in serious injuries. But so too can ladders that are poorly designed or manufactured.

The American Journal of Preventative Medicine reports hundreds of thousands of ladder-related injuries every year result in treatments by U.S. emergency departments. One in 10 of these required hospitalization, and 90 percent occurred at a home or farm.

Some of the most common injuries included:

  • Injuries to the feet and legs
  • Wrist injuries
  • Knee injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Traumatic brain injuries

Following a ladder fall and serious injury, it may not be easy to tell whether the cause was defectiveness of the product, so it’s best to consult with an experienced injury attorney in Fort Lauderdale to analyze all relevant facts.

In the recent case of Stuhlmacher v. Home Depot, the case initially resulted in a win for a distributor in a defective ladder claim after trial judge struck plaintiff’s expert witness testimony. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit later reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Court records indicate plaintiff was a millwright technician who had just begun work on the roof of a cabin he was building for his parents. The ladder in question was a four-legged, fiberglass step ladder, purchased just days earlier specifically for the roof work. The day of the incident was the first time the ladder had ever been used.

Plaintiff had just begun to put together the rafters when the ladder fell underneath him. He grabbed onto a rafter momentarily, then fell on the right front of the rafter, hitting his groin. He injured his shoulder, but also more significantly, his genitals, which were permanently impaired. He is no longer able to engage in sexual intercourse.

Plaintiff said hours after the accident, he looked at the ladder and noticed the rear side had come apart, with the rear spreader bracket rivets pulled through the right rear rail. Some of the diagonal step braces were also bent.

He and his wife filed a product liability lawsuit against both the manufacturer and distributor. The lawsuit alleged the rivets failed, resulting in c0llapse.

Plaintiff’s expert witness was an accident reconstructionist specializing in mechanical engineering. He testified the rivets on plaintiff’s ladder differed from those in the design drawings for the product, and theorized the rivets were overtightened in the manufacturing process, which compromised the integrity of the ladder. This weakness would have been “involuntarily sensed” by plaintiff, who shifted his weight to the left, causing the ladder to fall.

Following this testimony, trial judge stopped mid-trial to press further about expert’s theory of causation. He then ruled the expert’s testimony “did not match” that of plaintiff, and thus struck the testimony. With that evidence gone, plaintiff’s could not prove causation and a summary judgment was issued in favor of defense.

Plaintiff appealed, and the federal appellate court reversed. The appellate court ruled an expert witness testimony is allowed to be entered under civil rules so long as it helps the jury in determining any fact at issue in the case. Further, expert witnesses are allowed to hold up alternate theories to explain the conclusions they reach.

The case was then remanded for retrial, meaning plaintiffs will get another shot at proving product defect.

Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Stuhlmacher v. Home Depot, Dec. 17, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Maguire v. Providence – Fall-Related Injuries Spike During Holiday Shopping Season, Dec. 23, 2014, Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Blog

Contact Information