Household ladders are generally considered essential pieces of equipment that every homeowner should have on hand for home or yard maintenance. Most consumers in need of a ladder will go to a popular home improvement store and buy a model manufactured or imported by one of several corporations that dominate the market, trusting that their purchase will serve them well for many years.
Unfortunately, sometimes this trust is violated. A growing number of Americans fall victim to serious accidents involving ladders that are found to be defective and later recalled. Some ladder models, even those from well-established brands, harbor unsafe designs, poor construction, low-quality materials, or other flaws that can cause users to suffer severe injuries.
For those subjected to life-altering injuries, the refunds or replacements offered by manufacturers for recalled products are not sufficient compensation. This is why many consumers who need reimbursement for medical bills or other expenses are filing ladder accident lawsuits.
Though ladders are not usually thought of as particularly dangerous, statistics show that they pose a considerable threat to personal safety, especially in the home. According to a comprehensive study spanning 16 years of data published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, over 130,000 ladder injury cases are hospitalized annually in the U.S., and more than 97% of ladder accidents have been found to occur in residential settings rather than at the workplace.
Worse yet, ladder accidents are associated with medical emergencies such as joint dislocations, fractures (especially in the arms and hands), and concussions that may cause brain damage. If especially severe, such injuries could permanently disable or even kill an accident victim.
Many homeowners may be surprised to learn that while using a ladder seems straightforward, in reality, there are many crucial safety rules to follow:
In contrast to those who use ladders in occupational settings, such as construction workers, contractors, and maintenance workers, who usually receive safety training for equipment, the average homeowner is likely unaware of these tenets of ladder safety. Despite this, safety labeling and instructions for ladders can be unclear or include only a bare minimum of information and safety warnings.
Plus, even if consumers do manage to practice proper ladder safety, they can still be gravely injured if they’re struck by a ladder that unexpectedly breaks from wear or defects.
Again, unlike most contractors and other professionals, homeowners often don’t realize the importance of inspecting ladders before usage in order to spot potentially-dangerous flaws, or simply don’t know how to perform a thorough inspection. Though some ladder problems can be repaired, others render a ladder permanently unfit for use:
Such defects or signs of wear may also escape a homeowner’s notice in cases where he or she assumes that a ladder, especially one that’s new or only occasionally used and sold by a trusted brand, should be durable enough to remain in working condition for many years.
However, a growing number of ladder recalls suggests that this isn’t always the case.
When manufacturers sell a ladder model that’s defective or made with low-grade materials, even a brand-new ladder used with all the correct safety measures could still cause dangerous accidents.
A large number of complaints about a particular ladder model can prompt the manufacturer to investigate the product and issue a recall if a defect is found. When recalling a ladder, manufacturers may choose to do one or more of the following:
Sometimes manufacturers are able to contact customers directly by mail or e-mail to notify them of product recalls, but in cases where recalls are only announced at stores or on company websites, recalls may go unheeded. It’s likely that many consumers unknowingly own a recalled ladder, putting them at risk for accidents whenever they decide to use it.
Some of the most infamous ladder recalls were issued by Werner Co. Inc., a company that’s recognized worldwide for its equipment, and Louisville Ladders, an industry leader in ladders and ladder accessories throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Space Master Sliding Attic Ladder. On June 19, 1997, Werner recalled the “Space Master,” (model WS2308) a ladder that was designed to slide up into the attic when not in use. The ladder was fastened into storage mode with no more than a simple metal hook, which had been accidentally attached backwards on some units, an error which could have allowed the ladder to easily slide down and hurt someone.
The ladder was sold in leading home center stores nationwide from January through May 1997 before the recall. Consumers were told to contact Werner for instructions on how to inspect and repair their Space Master ladders.
Easy Access Attic Ladder. Though this ladder was never officially recalled by Werner, the company received many complaints about it—as many as 80 in one week—and eventually faced a class action lawsuit involving the S2208 and S2210 models of the product.
According to the allegations, the ladder’s hinges, constructed of a cheaply-produced material called “pot metal,” were especially prone to cracking or shattering. Thus, even though the rest of the ladder was made of steel, the flimsy hinges caused it to be easily broken or bent, putting users at risk for falling.
The ladders debuted as a Lowe’s exclusive in 2003. Denying the validity of numerous consumer complaints, Werner continued to sell the controversial models until the company decided to stop manufacturing them in 2008.
Assorted Industrial Ladders. Louisville Ladder recalled about 3,000 units of various industrial ladders on November 23, 2005, due to a weakness in the rungs near the side rails that could break and cause users to fall. The ladder types included multi-purpose, step-to-straight, combination, manhole and extension trestle varieties, all Type 1A industrial ladders.
All of the affected ladders are marked with one of 14 model numbers which are listed on the Consumer Product and Safety Commission site, and were manufactured from Nov. 2004 through Mar. 2005. The ladders were for sale in major home center and industrial supply stores from Nov. 2004 to June 2005. Customers were offered a free inspection and a replacement ladder if defects were found.
“Louisville/Davidson” And “Michigan” Brand Fiberglass Extension Ladders. On February 20, 2008, Louisville Ladder issued a “voluntary recall” of these ladders, which were sold at industrial supply and home center stores between Sept. and Dec. 2007.
Made with fiberglass rails and aluminum rungs, the affected models have a “fly” or extension section that tends not to lock, resulting in instability that allows for falls. This recall only covered models that were manufactured from Sept. to Oct. 2007; those manufactured later were properly inspected and fixed. Consumers were provided with a free repair kit if they contacted Louisville Ladder.
Some notable recent recalls of ladders and ladder accessories from other manufacturers include:
American Innovations Corp.
Product Identified by: Walk-Through Railing Ladder Extensions. Unique extension product that fits over ladder railings
Issue Date / Defect: 5-10-2006 / Unit can come loose and fall, hitting bystanders below. At least 1 injury report received
Sold: At various hardware stores, in catalogs, and on company website from Sept. 2004 to Feb. 2006
Action: Free repair kit
Product Identified by: Kong Maxx Ladder Stand Model #43032
Issue Date / Defect: 10-18-2007 / Stands can become unstable, causing falls
Sold: At Gander Mountain stores from Jul. to Sept. 2007
Action: Full refund
Product Identified by: Folding Step Stools Style #3575 or #3576
Issue Date / Defect: 5-10-2012 / At least 15 reports of stools breaking & 3 injuries so far
Sold: At retailers such as Home Goods and TJ Maxx from Jan. 2010 to Jan. 2012
Action: Full refund
Wing Enterprises Inc.
Product Identified by: Switch-It Stepladder Step Stool Combo
Issue Date / Defect: Date stamps 10622S, 10623S, 10624S, 10721S and 10722S 12-11-2012 / Inner side rails may come apart from outer rails, causing falls
Sold: Exclusively at Home Depot from Aug. to Oct. 2012
Action: Rail replacement
New recalls are always being issued, so it’s best to keep an eye on the Consumer Product and Safety Commission website, which has a searchable database of product recalls.
When consumers fall from recalled ladders and are afflicted with severe injuries, such as major head trauma, they deserve much more compensation for their pain, suffering, and loss than a simple refund or replacement ladder. Such injuries can render patients permanently disabled or may even lead to death.
Losing one’s health or life to a ladder accident is a horrible injustice, especially in cases where the injury could have been easily avoided by simple preventative measures on the manufacturer’s part. Thankfully, consumers have the right to pursue legal action against manufacturers who may have wronged them.
In June 2015, John Baugh, a resident of Wheaton, Illinois, won a case in which he alleged that he suffered brain damage after falling from a ladder that had suddenly collapsed under him.
The ladder was an aluminum model designed and manufactured by the Mexican company Cuprum S.A. de C.V., who imports to the U.S. under the Louisville Ladder brand. Baugh was using the ladder to help him repair the gutters on his house when one of the side rails collapsed, causing him to fall and hit his head on a cement driveway.
Baugh, who was 64 years old at the time of the incident, ended up requiring constant assisted care after the injury and thus had to eventually leave his home for a nursing facility. Though there were no witnesses to the accident and Baugh was not able to remember the exact details due to his brain injuries, his wife Sharon was able to file a lawsuit on his behalf against the manufacturer.
The first trial of the case reached a verdict in favor of Cuprum in 2011, but the Baughs’ lawyers were later able to appeal that decision to get a new trial, which began in May 2015. The appeals court, convinced that the ladder harbored a design defect, granted the Baughs a court award totaling $11.1 million, including $7.1 million for any relevant medical expenses (past or future), $2 million for “loss of a normal life,” and $2 million for all the pain and suffering caused by the ordeal.
Louisville Ladder has faced numerous lawsuits over the years, many from workers allegedly injured on the job while using their ladders. Some examples include:
As expected with claims involving serious injuries, many of the lawsuits filed against against Louisville Ladder listed damages exceeding $75,000.
Werner Co. Inc. has also been the target of many personal injury lawsuits from workers and homeowners. However, the best-known example is Clemans v. New Werner, a class action lawsuit regarding the “Steel Easy Access Attic Ladder” that Werner had refused to recall despite receiving a wave of consumer complaints.
The lawsuit, filed in 2013 by “representative plaintiff” Lloyd Clemans, for himself and on behalf of thousands of additional claimants, contained allegations that Werner had violated multiple consumer protection and unfair business practice laws. According to Clemans, these violations included selling and concealing defects of an unsafe ladder that snapped under weights below its listed 300 lbs. rating due to cheap, easily breakable, “pot metal” hinges.
Both Werner and Lowe’s (where the ladder was sold exclusively) insisted that the ladders were not defective, and that even if they were, Werner was not liable because the ladders were manufactured by Old Ladder Co., a company acquired by Werner that later declared bankruptcy and went out of business.
Without admitting fault, Werner agreed to settle the class action in January 2014, but the only restitution offered to the claimants was a new replacement ladder.
Any Werner ladder accident victims who suffered significant injuries undoubtedly felt outrage over Werner’s meager settlement offer. Though many factors likely contributed to the development and acceptance of such a disappointing case outcome, some problems may have been tied to the choice of filing a class action.
Class action lawsuits are a form of group litigation that is meant to allow large numbers of claimants to band together and participate in a case against a set of defendants without all of them having to officially file lawsuits. A class action is filed by one or a few “representative” plaintiffs, and any other individuals that meet certain qualifications—for example, having used a particular product during a fixed time period—can join the suit by filing a simple form or may even be automatically included unless they “opt out.”
A major drawback of class action for most claimants is the fact that they have essentially no power over the suit. That is, the representative plaintiff controls the direction of the lawsuit, making the choice to settle or to push for a trial. This is because claimants in class action are assumed to be similar enough to each other that they can easily be represented by one plaintiff, and thus decisions that the representative plaintiff makes are thought to be appropriate for all “class members.”
But it’s obvious that although the settlement offer of a new ladder might’ve been satisfactory for a consumer who only suffered a few bruises, it was sorely inadequate for those with more extreme injuries. Thus, class action was probably not the best option for this ladder accident lawsuit, and the claimants would likely have had a better chance at fair compensation if they had filed individual personal injury lawsuits. Unfortunately for those claimants, class action suits also typically bar participants from later filing individual claims related to the incident discussed in the class action.
These varied examples of ladder accident lawsuits underscore the highly individual nature of ladder accident litigation. Every case is different, requiring a personalized approach to forming the lawsuit and establishing an appropriate restitution amount to request.
Thus, the best way to explore your legal options for a ladder accident claim is to get your case evaluated by a seasoned attorney. The legal team at Banville Law has extensive experience in litigation against large corporations, and our firm is now offering free case evaluations to injured consumers looking to file lawsuits against ladder manufacturers.
Contact Banville Law today to schedule an evaluation, and an experienced lawyer will answer all of your pressing questions regarding your potential case at no cost.
Company Overview of Werner Co.
Recall of Werner Space Master Sliding Attic Ladder
Class Action Settlement of Clemans vs. New Werner
Click to download a PDF of this court document
Louisville Ladder Extension Ladder Recall
National Electrical Contractors Assoc. – Louisville Announces Ladder Recall
Louisville Ladder Various Industrial Ladders Recall
1.1 Million Verdict for Ladder Injury Victim
Products Sold By Home Depot After Recalls Were Announced
Recall of Wing Enterprises’ Switch-It Stepladder
Recall of Gorilla Inc.’s Kong Maxx Ladder
Recall of American Innovations Corp.’s Ladder Extensions
Recall of Kennedy International’s Folding Step Stools
“Ladder-Related Injuries Treated In Emergency Departments In The United States, 1990–2005” (American Journal Of Preventative Medicine)
“Occupational Ladder Fall Injuries – United States, 2011” (Centers For Disease Control And Prevention)
Ladder Safety (International Association Of Certified Home Inspectors)
Ladder Safety 101 (Consumer Product Safety Commission)
Ladder Buying Guide (Consumer Reports Magazine)