Product Liability

Miami Jury Returns Defense Verdict in $3.1 Million Ladder Case

Miami Jury Returns Defense Verdict in $3.1 Million Ladder Case

This article was originally published by Samantha Joseph in the Daily Business Review on May 7, 2018. Copyright 2018. ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. 

A Miami jury deliberated for about 18 minutes before returning a verdict in favor of defendant Louisville Ladder Inc., which was facing a request for $3.1 million in damages in a products liability lawsuit.

Louisville Ladder is a Kentucky-based company that designs, manufactures and distributes step stools, scaffolds and ladders. It was sued by Jorge Morejon, who fell about 9 feet as he was climbing down a ladder at a work site.

The odds seemed lined up against the company and its defense counsel, Scott M. Sarason and Jens C. Ruiz of RumbergerKirk in Miami.

Across the aisle was a hardworking plaintiff — a plumber who had been working on a client’s roof when he plummeted from the ladder, fracturing his hips, ribs and vertebrae.

“There was no doubt that he did have an injury,” said Sarason, a litigator with about three decades of experience defending clients in federal and state courts across the U.S.

After the fall, Morejon required a prosthetic pelvic reconstruction plate in his hip and multiple screws to repair the fracture. His medical bills passed $292,000, and the cost of future care would likely reach $150,000, according to court pleadings. His doctor said Morejon would later require a total hip replacement.

“We focused on the liability aspect because the plaintiff clearly was injured in the fall,” Ruiz said. “The most difficult part was just reiterating and sticking to what we believed happened in this case and focusing on the facts as opposed to the sympathy factor.”

Morejon’s legal team included plaintiffs lawyer Robert L. Parks and Gabriel Garay of The Law Offices of Robert L. Parks in Miami. They asked the jury to award $3.1 million award in their client’s favor.

They argued the ladder was defective, and the manufacturer failed to properly warn users about potential risks. They also claimed the ladder was unreasonably dangerous in its design because it required users to shift their center of gravity beyond its side rails to prevent falls when descending.

Plaintiffs counsel argued a proper design would have included a “walk-through” device at the top to allow the user to maintain the center of gravity between the rails. They also claimed the ladder failed to comply with criteria set by the American National Standards Institute, a private nonprofit that oversees development criteria for systems, products, processes and services.

Louisville Ladder denied all the allegations. It argued it issued adequate warnings and instructions, but  the plaintiff failed to follow them. It filed a pretrial motion for partial summary judgment on Morejon’s claim that it failed to warn consumers. U.S. Magistrate Judge John O’Sullivan granted the motion.

Another pretrial motion went in the defense’s favor when the judge prohibited testimony from an expert witness on the plaintiff’s side.

In the end, Sarason and Ruiz successfully argued Morejon owned the ladder for more than six years without incident and an oversight on his part led to his injuries. They showed the plaintiff used the ladder multiple times over the years and twice before on the day he fell.

“What was different on that day?” Sarason asked. “It was the homeowner climbing up the ladder to observe Mr. Morejon, and Mr. Morejon not observing and making sure the ladder was stable when he climbed down.”

“It was a tough case,” Parks conceded. “The number of times the ladder was used for that purpose is a tough deal. I still think it’s improperly designed, but the jury disagreed.”

Attorneys on both sides praised the other’s professionalism and practice skills, saying the case was hard-fought but respectfully handled.

“The plaintiffs lawyer is an excellent lawyer. Bob Parks is a well-known, always prepared lawyer who has tried many many cases,” Sarason said. “He showed great professionalism. The parties worked together as well as can be expected in an adversarial situation, but anytime Mr. Parks is involved, it’s going to be a difficult case.”

Parks returned the compliment.

“Mr. Sarason is a terrific lawyer and highly professional. He makes it a pleasure to try a case,” he said. “I’ve always found it’s better to have a really good lawyer against you (rather) than the other way because it makes the case easier in every way.”

Parks said he client had not decided whether to file post-trial motions.

Case: Jorge Morejon v. Louisville Ladder Case No.: 17-22558-CIV Description: Products liability Filing date: Sept. 29, 2016 Verdict date: April 24, 2017Judge: U.S. Magistrate Judge John O’Sullivan Plaintiffs attorneys: Robert L. Parks and Gabriel Garay, The Law Offices of Robert L. Parks, Miami; and Theodore J. Fournaris, Fournaris & Sanet, Miami Defense attorneys: Scott M. Sarason and Jens C. Ruiz, RumbergerKirk, Miami Verdict amount: For the defense