The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently affirmed a summary judgment in favor of a defendant in a product liability case involving a reportedly defective ladder that plaintiffs alleged caused a serious fall.
The problem for the plaintiffs in Loomis, et al. v. Wing Enterprises Inc. was that expert witness testimony was insufficient to prove several theories of product liability to the court’s satisfaction.
Sarasota product liability attorneys recognize the importance of expert witnesses in these cases. It’s not enough that an accident happened and someone was seriously injured. There must be sufficient proof – prior to trial – that the manufacturer failed in its legal duties to the consumer.
In the Loomis case, the plaintiff was using a certain brand of ladder to hang Christmas lights on the front of her home. This particular ladder is one with “telescoping” capabilities, which allow it to be set in a number of different configurations. She and her husband positioned the ladder in an A-frame, with the height two positions below the maximum. After completing one section, they moved the ladder several feet over to continue. While the plaintiff was reaching, she fell and suffered injury to her foot.
The couple subsequently filed a product liability lawsuit, alleging the ladder was defective and unreasonably dangerous by design.
The expert witness retained was a professor who performed a series of tests on the ladder, and determined that when the ladder was dragged across the driveway, it caused tension in the legs that made it unstable and caused the legs to suddenly shift.
The defendant moved to exclude the professor’s testimony, as well as any evidence of his testing, arguing there wasn’t a connection between the compression tests he conducted and the exact events that occurred during the accident.
The district court weighed the doctor’s testing with the plaintiff’s testimony of what had occurred, and determined the two did not match.
After excluding this evidence, the court looked at whether the plaintiff still had a case, and ruled it was not strong enough. The court granted the defense motion for summary judgment.
The plaintiff appealed. However, the appellate court affirmed, finding the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to accept the expert witness testimony.
The plaintiffs acknowledged the professor’s testing included scenarios that were “exaggerated to an extreme,” but argued the basic physics were relevant.
However, the district court cited two different cases – Cowens v. Siemens-Elema AB (1988) and Dunn v. Nexgrill Indus., Inc. (2011) in finding it settled that experimental testing is not admissible absent a foundation showing the tests were conducted in conditions “substantially similar” to those at issue.
Without any additional expert testimony to support their claim, the court concluded the court was “well within its discretion” in making the dismissal.
Cases like this fall under the umbrella of a strict liability claim. That is, the plaintiff seeks to hold the manufacturer liable without regard to fault. In order to do this successfully, the plaintiff has to show:
- The manufacturer’s relationship to the product.
- The defect in the product caused an unreasonably dangerous situation.
- The defect was the proximate cause of the consumer’s injuries.
A product can be considered defective because of an inherent design flaw, a manufacturing defect or an inadequate warning on the product.
Each of these elements requires strict adherence to high standards of evidence. It’s important that your case be vetted by a law firm with experience before you decide to move forward with a claim.
If you have been a victim of a defective product in Sarasota, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Loomis, et al. v. Wing Enterprises Inc. , June 26, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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