Arkansas judge dismisses woman's claim that fall caused by defective ladder

By Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau | Apr 28, 2009

EL DORADO, Ark. – U.S. District Judge Harry F. Barnes dismissed an Arkansas woman's claims that her fall from a 4-foot ladder was due to its defective design.

Micki C. and Randy Mitchell filed the product liability lawsuit against Louisville Ladder Inc., formerly Louisville Ladder Group LLC, on Feb. 6, 2008, in the Circuit Court of Columbia County, Ark., at Magnolia. The defendant removed the case to the federal court, in the El Dorado Division of the Western District of Arkansas.

Micki Mitchell claimed she was using the ladder to hang wallpaper without incident for about 40 minutes and had moved it two or three times before she fell and injured her ankle. While she was lying on the floor, Mitchell claims she saw the ladder in a closed position.

According to court documents, Mitchell argues the ladder was defectively designed because it did not have proper side bracket locks.

The lawsuit argued the defendant was liable for strict liability and for negligence.

The plaintiff maintained that if a ladder folds up on someone while in use, then it must be defective and unreasonably dangerous.

The defendant's expert, Dr. Erick Knox, a licensed engineer and the chairperson of the American National Standards Institute committee on ladders, examined and evaluated the ladder in question.

The expert stated that the ladder was not defective and did not fold up and close while the plaintiff was standing on it but instead closed upon hitting the floor after Mitchell's fall.

Louisville Ladder filed for summary judgment, arguing that there was an absence of any genuine issue of material fact as to the ladder's defectiveness.

Judge Barnes found that Mitchell did not offer direct evidence that the omission of proper side bracket locks was a specific defect, "only the conclusory allegation that the ladder folded up on Mitchell while she was using it."

Further, the judge wrote that Mitchell failed to eliminate other possible causes of her fall from the ladder for which the defendant would not be responsible. According to the judge's opinion, the only evidence presented by Mitchell of a defect was that the ladder "does not look right."

The court disagreed with the plaintiff's argument that a juror's common experience would tell him or her that the ladder is defectively designed after viewing the "crooked" side spreader bars.

The plaintiff submitted her husband's affidavit arguing that the ladder at issue is defective. However, Judge Barnes found that a journeyman plumber does not have an expert opinion on the issue of whether a ladder is defective.

The plaintiffs were seeking more than $350,000 in damages and were represented by Magnolia attorney David Price.

Judge Barnes granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case with prejudice on April 21.

According to the company Web site, Louisville Ladder has been in business since 1946 and is "one of the largest climbing products manufacturers in the world."

Case No 1:08cv1051

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