No new trial for ladder maker ordered to pay Wheaton man $11 million for fall, head injuries

By Jonathan Bilyk | Dec 28, 2015

A ladder manufacturer will not be granted another chance to persuade a court a jury wrongfully awarded a Wheaton man more than $11 million after he fell when the ladder on which he was perched collapsed.

On Dec. 22, U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee rejected requests from Mexico-based ladder maker Cuprum S.A. de C.V. for a judgment to undo the jury’s verdict and for a new trial following the verdict handed down earlier this summer in the lawsuit brought by plaintiff John Baugh.

“The preponderance of the evidence standard requires that Baugh prove his injuries were more likely than not caused by a design defect, not that his injuries could only have been so caused,” Lee wrote in his opinion.

The case stemmed from a 2006 incident, in which Baugh was found by neighbors in his driveway, bleeding from his hand with a screwdriver in his hand. A ladder he had been using lay nearby.

According to court documents, the “ladder was strewn across the driveway, its right leg bent, its left leg twisted, and its pail shelf dented.”

The court noted Baugh had “quite clearly” fallen from the ladder, and had hit his head. The fall allegedly inflicted brain injuries on Baugh severe enough to prevent him from testifying in the case.

Baugh filed suit in 2008, and three years later a federal jury found in favor of Cuprum, which had contended Baugh had improperly used the ladder, contributing to his fall. That decision, however, was overturned on appeal, and the matter was tried a second time.

This time, a federal jury found in favor of Baugh in June, awarding him $11.1 million, including $7.1 million for medical expenses and awards of $2 million each for pain and suffering and loss of normal life.

Baugh was represented in the matter by attorneys with the firms of Sinson & Sinson and of Burke, Wise, Morrissey, Kaveny, both of Chicago.

Following the verdict, Cuprum asked Lee to issue a judgment as a matter of law and order a new trial, saying the jury had not examined the evidence correctly. Particularly, Cuprum pointed to the testimony of its expert witnesses, who had testified Cuprum’s ladders exceed the industry’s safety standards and, for the ladder to have collapsed as it did, Baugh must have used the ladder improperly. Specifically, they alleged Baugh had placed the ladder’s feet in an uneven flower bed and had climbed up the ladder from beneath, attempting to brace himself on the ladder’s pail shelf in an attempt to reach gutter screws he intended to replace. The pail shelf, the company said, is not manufactured to hold more than 100 pounds of weight for more than one minute at a time.

Additionally, they said, the damage to the ladder was caused by the fall with Baugh on top of it, not by any design defects.

Lee, however, said none of Cuprum’s assertions were sufficient to compel him to essentially vacate the findings of the jury.

Cuprum was represented by attorneys with the firm of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dickler, of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

Sinson & Sinson Ltd. Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman and Dicker LLP Wise, Mahoney & Kaveny

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