The ladder, necessary for many everyday tasks in the home and yard, is an essential piece of equipment in most households. Homeowners commonly buy ladders manufactured by well-known companies such as Werner Co. Inc. with the expectation that they’ll prove reliable for a number of years. But many manufacturers, even reputable ones, have issued at least one ladder recall for poorly-made or defective products that put users at risk of injury.
Tragically, ladder-related injuries are often severe, frequently leading to extended hospitalization, permanent disability, or even death. But manufacturers deny customers any reimbursement for medical expenses or lost wages, only providing refunds or replacement ladders. This is why many families who have been affected by ladder-related home accidents are seeking justice and fair compensation by filing personal injury lawsuits.
The Hazards Of Household Ladders
Ladder accidents are one of the leading causes of non-occupational injuries in the U.S. An extensive study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine revealed that more than 130,000 Americans are sent to the emergency room for ladder injuries every year—and 97% of these injuries occur in residential locations, like homes and farms.
Moreover, 10% of the ladder accident victims from the study’s 16-year dataset ended up hospitalized for extended periods of time. That’s twice the percentage of product-related injuries in general that receive extensive hospital care.
Falls and other mishaps involving ladders pose a significant threat to consumer safety because of their severity, frequently resulting in arm and hand fractures, dislocated joints, and concussions that could lead to coma and / or brain damage.
What Makes Ladders Unsafe?
Government agencies and consumer advocate groups have long been concerned about how to help protect American families from the potential pitfalls of household ladder use. But doing so requires determining the root of the problem—what’s causing these serious ladder incidents?
While some experts believe that widespread consumer education on proper safety practices would prevent the majority of injuries, others suspect that product defects, unsound designs, and inadequate warning labels / instruction manuals could also be a major source of hazards.
With so many homeowners falling victim to what are presumably “accidents,” are ladder manufacturers actually largely at fault?
Many Consumers Unaware Of Safety Rules
It’s not surprising that most ladder injuries occur at home rather than at the workplace. Though ladders may seem simple and straightforward to use, there are actually many important safety practices that consumers can follow to help prevent injury:
- Taking care not to exceed a ladder’s weight rating
- Choosing an appropriate ladder type and length for the task at hand
- For straight ladders, setting the ladder at an angle close to 75 degrees from the wall
- Placing a ladder only on firm, non-slippery, stable surfaces so that its feet can grip
- Maintaining at least 3 points of contact with the ladder while ascending / descending
- Never using the top 2 rungs / steps, which are not meant to bear significant weight
These and many more safety tips are explored in detail on the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors website.
Unfortunately, unlike trained professionals, many homeowners are unaware of ladder safety rules, and manufacturer product warnings and instructions can be unclear, confusing, or incomplete.
And yet, even if consumers do observe the necessary safety protocols, they may still be harmed if they happen to be using a defective, worn-out, poorly-designed, or shoddily-constructed ladder.
Hazards Posed When Products Are Worn Out
Almost as crucial as safe ladder usage is the practice of examining a ladder before use, in order to look for signs of wear that may render it dangerous. But just as with safety basics, many consumers are not versed in ladder inspection and may unwittingly use a worn or broken ladder. The UK’s Health and Safety Executive has compiled a slideshow that includes helpful photos and a list of common ladder problems that are irreparable:
- Missing “feet” (textured pads which are meant to grip the floor)
- Chemical erosion of hinges or stability bars
- Bent restraint bars on stepladders
- Dented or twisted rungs
- Bent or split stiles
- Missing rungs
Homeowners may also overlook obvious signs of wear when they simply don’t expect a ladder to need repair or replacement. After all, many people buy ladders expecting them to last a lifetime, especially those from popular brands manufactured by well-established companies.
Even New Or Gently Used Items Can Break If Defective
Sometimes, even trusted manufacturers release ladder models that are especially prone to wear or contain dangerous defects that increase the likelihood of accidents even for a new ladder used with the correct safety procedures.
When manufacturers receive large numbers of consumer complaints about a particular ladder model or product line, they can issue a product recall in an attempt to prevent consumers from being harmed.
What Happens In A Recall?
During a recall, the offending product(s) are usually pulled from the market, and customers who have already purchased them are either offered a refund, a safety modification, or a similar product as a replacement.
But since most consumers don’t continually check for the latest product recalls, they may not be aware that they own a recalled ladder unless the manufacturer notifies them directly. Many homeowners could be putting themselves at risk by using a ladder recalled for dangerous defects without even knowing it.
Recent Major Ladder Recalls
Some of the largest and most unsettling recalls in recent history were issued by Werner Co. Inc. and Louisville Ladder, two manufacturers that are nationally and even globally recognized leaders in the climbing equipment industry.
Defective Werner Attic Ladders
Werner Co. Inc., a U.S.-based corporation founded in 1922, currently distributes its products worldwide. The company is best known for its selection of aluminum and fiberglass ladders, but also produces ladder accessories, storage products, and safety equipment.
Werner has come under fire more than once for its attic ladders, a type of ladder that allows users to climb up into the attic and is meant to fold up with the attic door for easy storage.
“Space Master” Recalled For Fastener Defect
Werner recalled its “Space Master” sliding attic ladders marked with model number WS2308 due to a manufacturing defect in June 1997. The recalled ladders had been sold in major home improvement stores all over the U.S. between January and May 1997.
The ladders, which can slide up into a storage position when not in use, were supposed be held in place with a simple metal hook. However, on some units, these hooks were placed backwards, allowing the ladder to readily drop and hit people standing below. Consumers who had purchased Space Master ladders were given inspection and repair instructions.
Easy Access Attic Ladder Never Recalled Despite Hazards
Although Werner reportedly admitted to receiving up to 80 complaints per week regarding the S2208 and S2210 models of the “Easy Access Attic Ladder,” the company never ended up officially recalling the products. Outraged consumers were instead driven to legal action, and a class action lawsuit was filed in 2013.
The lawsuit stated that the ladder had weak hinges made out of flimsy “pot metal,” a category of metals that are particularly susceptible to damage and warping, causing the ladder to break even if its weight rating wasn’t exceeded. Though ladder falls and other mishaps allegedly caused by the faulty hinges resulted in many consumer injuries, Werner kept selling the affected models in Lowe’s hardware stores from 2003 until 2008.
Numerous Louisville Ladder Models Recalled
Louisville Ladder was established in 1946 and is based in Louisville, Kentucky. At present, it’s owned by the Mexican corporation Grupo Cuprum and distributes ladders throughout the U.S. and Canada. The company has been involved in many consumer lawsuits, particularly regarding its industrial ladders.
Louisville Industrial Ladder Recall
In November 2005, Louisville Ladder issued a recall that encompassed various models of industrial ladders sold in industrial supply and home improvement stores from November 2004 to June 2005. Roughly 3,000 units of these ladders were affected by weak spots in the rungs that put users at risk for falling. Recalled ladder types were all Type 1A industrial varieties, including:
- Extension trestle
Louisville Ladder told customers that they needed to bring or send in defective ladders for an inspection in order to receive a free replacement.
Fiberglass Extension Ladders Recalled For Falling Hazard
A number of fiberglass extension ladder models sold between September and December 2007 under the “Louisville/Davidson” and “Michigan” brands were found to harbor faulty extension mechanisms that can fail to lock. This locking malfunction can cause the ladder to suddenly collapse under use. A free repair kit was given to customers as part of the recall.
Recalled Ladders From Other Manufacturers
Major recalls have been issued for products manufactured or imported by more recently-established ladder companies as well. Several of these recalls were spurred on by multiple complaints from injured consumers:
- Walk-Through Railing Ladder Extensions. Recalled May 10, 2006. This product, manufactured by American Innovations Corp., was designed to be attached to a ladder in order to add length. It was sold in home center stores, in catalogs, and online between September 2004 and February 2006. However, it was recalled in May 2006 because it easily comes unfastened and is likely to fall and hurt people standing beneath. Consumers who responded to the recall were provided with a free repair kit.
- Kong Maxx Ladder Stand. Recalled Oct. 18, 2007. A ladder stand is a piece of hunting equipment that consists of a ladder, a platform seat, and hardware to attach the apparatus to a tree. The “Kong Maxx” stand, made by Gorilla Inc. and sold in Gander Mountain hunting / camping gear stores between July 2007 and September 2007, was recalled with a full refund offer because of a stability defect. When the ladder is extended to full height, the platform gets pushed too far away from the bracing, which could cause it to break away from the tree.
- Kennedy International Folding Step Stools. Recalled May 10, 2012. Sold at home accessory and department stores such as TJ Maxx from January 2010 to January 2012, these colorful plastic step stools were found to readily collapse, causing injuries. Kennedy International distributed full refunds to consumers.
- Switch-It Stepladder and Step Stool Combination. Recalled Dec. 11, 2012. This stepladder / step stool combo was rated at 300 lbs. but reportedly broke under much lighter weights because of faulty locks that were supposed to hold together the inner and outer rails. The product was manufactured by Wing Enterprises under its famous “Little Giant” brand and sold exclusively at Home Depot from August 2012 to October 2012. Consumers were urged to contact the company for a free rail replacement.
A good place to monitor the ever-growing number of ladder recalls is the Consumer Product Safety Commission website, where you can find an up-to-date, searchable recall list.
Dissatisfied Consumers Take Legal Action
As we’ve seen, though ladder accidents can result in life-threatening injuries, manufacturers won’t offer more than a replacement ladder or refund to customers harmed by defective products.
More and more consumers, claiming that manufacturers could have readily prevented their ladder-related injuries with proper safety-enforcing practices, are choosing to exercise their right to file lawsuits against ladder companies.
These plaintiffs are taking a stand to achieve justice for the wrongs inflicted upon them and other consumers by companies engaging in irresponsible or downright unsafe production methods. They also seek rightful compensation for considerable suffering and financial hardships caused by missed wages and hospital bills from ladder injuries.
Judge Awards Millions In Restitution For Injury Lawsuit
John and Sharon Baugh, a couple from Wheaton, Illinois, recently triumphed in a case against a corporation regarding an allegedly defective ladder that had caused John to fall and incur brain injuries.
According to the lawsuit, John Baugh had been standing on the ladder—a Louisville Ladder brand model that was imported by Mexican parent corporation Cuprum S.A. de C.V.—while repairing his gutters when one of the side rails suddenly gave way and the ladder’s metal frame collapsed. John fell and suffered severe head trauma. He was found lying on his cement driveway with the bent ladder beside him.
Tragically, John suffered brain damage from the accident. He could no longer live at home with his wife because he needed specialized assisted care and was moved to a nursing facility. Though the odds were stacked against her, with no witnesses and John unable to clearly recall his accident, Sharon decided to take legal action against Cuprum on John’s behalf.
When the case first went to trial in 2011, the court ruled in favor of Cuprum. Luckily, the Baughs were able to get an appeal for a second trial, which began in May 2015. This time, the ladder was judged to be defective and the court ordered Cuprum to pay the Baughs a total of $11.1 million in restitution—$7.1 million for past and future medical expenses pertaining to the accident, $2 million for pain and suffering, and $2 million for John’s “loss of a normal life.”
Werner Offers Settlement For Class Action Suit
Though Werner Co. has faced numerous lawsuits from injured consumers over the years, the most famous example is Clemans v. New Werner, a class action lawsuit that was supported by thousands of claimants who were allegedly harmed by the “Steel Easy Access Attic Ladder.” Lloyd Clemans, acting as the “representative plaintiff” for the class action, filed the case in 2013 against Werner Co. Inc. and hardware chain Lowe’s, the only retail establishment where the ladders were sold.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, many consumers claimed that the “Easy Access” attic ladder’s inferior-quality hinges can cause the ladder to buckle under much lighter weights than its 300 lb. rating. In his lawsuit, Clemans alleged that by selling a potentially-dangerous product and refusing to recall it even after receiving hundreds of complaints, Werner and Lowe’s were in violation of numerous Washington state consumer protection and fair business practice laws.
The defendants argued that the ladders did not harbor defects, and also attempted to establish that Werner wasn’t liable for defects in the “Easy Access” ladders, which were originally manufactured by Old Ladder Co., a now-bankrupt acquisition of Werner. Despite their objections to the allegations, Werner and Lowe’s offered a settlement agreement in January 2014, not wishing to continue the trial and expose themselves to more negative press.
Many Claimants Lost Out In The Settlement
Unfortunately, especially for those who were severely injured, the final settlement agreement for Clemans v. New Werner only provided replacement ladders for every claimant except for Lloyd Clemans, who received a monetary award for serving as the class representative. The rest of the class members received no reimbursement for pain and suffering or for medical bills incurred from ladder injuries.
Such unsatisfactory outcomes are common for class action cases in which the class members’ situations differ greatly from one another, because the power to accept or decline a settlement offer belongs solely to the class representative. Though class members who had suffered significant injuries would have likely wanted to reject the settlement, these individuals had no influence over the case outcome according to the rules of class action.
Banville Law: Fighting For Ladder Injury Victims’ Rights
This is why the New York attorneys at Banville Law believe that ladder accident cases are too individual in nature to be handled with class action and that consumers would have a better chance at winning the compensation they deserve through filing personal injury lawsuits.
If you were harmed by a defective or poorly-made ladder, you may still be able to file a claim even if a recall or settlement has already been issued for the product in question. The best way to get a thorough analysis of your legal options regarding your ladder accident is to schedule a case evaluation with an experienced lawyer.
Here at Banville Law, our attorneys have a wealth of experience dealing with suits against large companies, and our legal team will evaluate your case at no cost. Contact us today to get all your important legal questions answered.