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From Products Liability Law Daily, August 20, 2015

Jury verdict finds no defect in Werner ladder

By Pamela C. Maloney, J.D.

A federal court jury in Texas found no liability on the part of a ladder manufacturer for injuries to a woman who sustained a fracture to her left arm when the ladder she was using collapsed under her. The jury found that at the time the ladder left the manufacturer’s possession, there was no manufacturing defect that constituted a producing cause of the accident or injuries. The jury also determined that the ladder was not unfit for its ordinary purposes or that the manufacturer failed to comply with any other warranties (Bowlin v. Werner Co., August 18, 2015, Clark, R.).

Background. Charlotte Lynn Bowlin was using a Model 368 ladder manufactured by Werner Co. when it failed, causing her to fall and sustain a humerus fracture to her left arm that required surgery to repair. She filed a product liability lawsuit against Warner, alleging that the ladder, which had a load capacity of 250 pounds and was represented to be “Heavy Duty,” had been defectively manufactured and that Werner had breach the implied warranty of merchantability. The complaint also set forth a claim under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

Product liability claims. The complaint listed as the primary defect the rivet connecting the left spreader bar to the front left rail, alleging that it had been improperly installed so that the ladder was unable to withstand normal, foreseeable use, rendering it unreasonably dangerous.

In the alternative, Bowlin alleged that the ladder was defectively designed and that there were economically and technologically feasible alternative designs available that would have prevented Bolwin’s injuries without substantially impairing the ladder’s utility. Specifically, the manufacturer could have used a steel metal washer to spread the tension at the latter joint over a larger surface area rather the relying on a rivet alone to secure the spreader bar to the ladder rail.

Breach of implied warranty. Bowlin also alleged that the ladder’s defective manufacture also rendered it “unmerchantable” and unfit for its ordinary purpose, and that Werner’s conduct in selling a product that was not merchantable and unfit for its intended purposes rendered the company liable under the doctrine of breach of implied warranty of merchantability.

Deceptive Trade Practices Act claim. Finally Bowlin sought relief under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act based on her allegations that Werner breached the implied warranty of merchantability.

Jury’s verdict. After a short trial, the jury responded “No” to the following questions: (1) was there a manufacturing defect in the ladder at the time it left the passion of Werner that was a producing cause of the occurrence in question; (2) was the product unfit for the ordinary purposes for which such products are used because of a defect, and, if so, was such unfit condition a proximate cause of the occurrence in question; and (3) was the failure, if any, of Werner to comply with a warranty a producing cause of damages to Bowlin.

The case is Civil Action No. 4:14-CV-111 (verdict) (complaint)

Attorneys: Paul Wesley Black (Lenahan Law, PLLC) for Charlotte Bowlin. Gary Don Swaim (Cunningham Swaim, LLP), and Michael J. Terhar (Rose Walker, LLP) for Werner Co.

Companies: Werner Co.

MainStory: TopStory JuryVerdictsNewsStory DesignManufacturingNews DamagesNews HouseholdProductsNews TexasNews

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