Defective Stepladder’s Failure Leads to $375,000 Settlement | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

What Happened

Our client was working as a contracted electrician at an AT&T-owned building outside of Richmond, Virginia (VA), when the 8-foot fiberglass stepladder he was standing on collapsed. The fall onto the concrete floor broke his tibia in multiple places.

Our client fell straight down and landed on one foot with enough force to split and shatter the thicker of the two bones in his lower leg. Repairing the tibia required multiple surgeries, and he was left with a permanent and substantial disability.

First, several screws and plates were implanted to piece his tibia back together. Later, a second surgery was performed to remove the hardware. Last, because most of the damage occurred along the top of the bone just below the knee joint, a third surgery was needed to remove bone fragments from our client’s knee. He may need to have that knee completely replaced later in life.


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Our client and his co-worker found the fiberglass stepladder hanging on the wall of the otherwise unoccupied room they entered. Believing they had implied or express permission from an AT&T manager who was elsewhere in the building to use any equipment available onsite, our client climbed the ladder.

Shortly after our client reached an upper step on the ladder, it fractured or split near the base of its support side. AT&T personnel later rehung the ladder with a “Do Not Use” sign attached. This allowed our Virginia personal injury attorney to have the ladder examined by experts.

The ladder was manufactured by Bauer Corporation. Our experts determined that the structural splits and fractures near the foot of the support side of the ladder were most likely caused by a design flaw that allowed the metal feet on the step side to continually damage the support side rails. Closing and hanging the ladder brought the metal feet into contact with the support side rails. Once one fracture occurred, each instance of contact from the metal feet lengthened and multiplied the fractures. The experts’ conclusion was that Bauer produced the ladder based on a negligent design.

Further investigation also uncovered numerous prior injury claims involving the same model of Bauer fiberglass stepladders that had failed in a similar fashion. Subsequently, our Virginia defective product attorneys filed a lawsuit against Bauer on the grounds that it failed to meet its duty to warn its customers about a product it had reason to believe was defective and dangerous. To support this claim, our attorneys argued that Bauer only sold ladders to businesses, that it had sold this ladder to AT&T and that Bauer had changed the design of this model of ladder specifically to prevent damage to support side rails. The duty to warn existed because of the reports of ladder failure and the relatively small number of ladder buyers.

Our Virginia personal injury lawyers also filed a general negligence claim against AT&T on the grounds that it failed to meet its duties to inspect the ladder frequently and to replace it once significant damage was detected. These duties exist under regulations enforced by OSHA.

Bauer denied all the claims made against it. AT&T denied that our client had implied permission to use the ladder and argued that the OSHA standards did not apply.

All parties agreed to mediation in order to avoid a courtroom trial. To support our client’s request for monetary compensation and damages, we presented expert testimony from an orthopedic surgeon, a failure analysis expert, a vocational rehabilitation expert and an economist. The mediation process resulted in a settlement of $375,000 for our client.

Our Virginia personal injury law firm is led by an inventor who brings a trained eye to dangerous and defective product lawsuits. We also provide guidance on how people who get injured on the job can pursue both workers’ compensation claims and lawsuits against makers of defective equipment.

Court and Date> Richmond, Virginia, Circuit Court, 2001

Staff: Richard N. Shapiro, attorney