Charles P. Rantis and Meghan Sciortino of Johnson & Bell, Ltd. received a verdict of not guilty for their client, Louisville Ladder, in a Cook County jury trial. The plaintiff, a journeyman electrician, fell from an 8-foot fiberglass stepladder manufactured by Johnson & Bell's client, sustaining several serious injuries. The plaintiff’s fellow employee witnessed the accident, and claimed that the stepladder collapsed. The ladder had been in service at the plaintiff’s employer for 4½ years before the accident, and was provided to the plaintiff by his foreman. Following the accident, the right front rail of the ladder was found to be bent below the bottom step.
The plaintiff contended that the accident was a result of a structural collapse of the ladder under normal use, and contended that the ladder lacked sufficient stability. The plaintiff also argued that the subject model ladder had a design defect and was never properly tested pursuant to the ANSI protocol. During trial, Mr. Rantis and Ms. Sciortino established with expert and other testimony that the real cause of the accident was a loss of balance by the plaintiff, who was working at the 4th or 5th step installing conduit above an open ceiling grid. They also established that the damage to the right front rail was due to a side impact from the plaintiff as he fell. Additionally, the defense established that the ladder had been properly tested and complied with the ANSI requirements. The defense also successfully argued that the ladder had pre-existing damage and should have been taken out of service by the plaintiff’s employer before the accident occurred.
The plaintiff's counsel asked the jury for an award of $900,000. After deliberating for just over an hour, the jury returned its verdict of not guilty.