When looking for household ladders, most consumers will shop at major home improvement stores like Lowe’s to buy models manufactured by well-established companies, confident that such products are carefully designed and tested for safety, ease of use, and durability.
But many homeowners are discovering that even trusted ladder brands sometimes have serious design flaws, manufacturing defects, or unclear safety instructions that may lead to dangerous accidents. One of the most infamous examples is a product line of Werner attic ladders that incited numerous complaints and even a class action lawsuit.
Werner Attic Ladder Not Recalled Despite Complaints
Produced under Werner Co. Inc, one of the nation’s top ladder manufacturers, the “Steel Easy Access Attic Ladder” caused an uproar among consumers who claimed that the ladder is prone to breaking even under loads much lighter than its 300lb. weight rating. The affected units have model numbers S2208 or S2210 and are labeled with Mk 1, Mk 2, Mk 3, or Mk 4.
According to consumer complaints—Werner reportedly received as many as 80 in a single week—the ladder’s hinges are merely constructed out of cheap “pot metal,” a category of low-quality metals that are vulnerable to cracks, bending, and corrosion, especially with age. Though the ladder’s frame is made of sturdy steel, the weak hinges, prone to shearing and shattering, can easily cause the ladder to collapse under normal use.
Despite how these fragile hinges reportedly put users at risk for falling and seriously injuring themselves, Werner never recalled the ladder and continued to freely sell it in Lowe’s hardware stores from the time it debuted in 2003 up until the company deciding to stop manufacturing it in 2008.
Not The First Faulty Attic Ladder For Werner
Werner’s reluctance to recall their “Easy Access” ladder is especially peculiar considering the company had issued a “voluntary recall” for a different attic ladder in the past.
Back in 1997, models of Werner’s “Space Master” sliding attic ladders labeled with model number WS2308 were recalled because of a potentially-hazardous manufacturing flaw.
Generally, attic ladders are permanently installed at the attic entry in such a way that they can fold up with the attic door when not in use. The “Space Master” was designed to be held in the folded position by a simple metal hook, but in some units, this hook was attached backwards by mistake. This defect made it easy for the stored ladder to come unfastened and fall down on bystanders below.
Although consumers who’d purchased the affected “Space Master” ladders (sold in leading home improvement retailers nationwide from January to May 1997) only received instructions for inspection and repair of the defective ladders, at least they had been officially warned of the product’s hazards and given means to avoid injury.
Buyers of the “Easy Access Attic Ladder” have not been so lucky.
Complaints Continue Even Today
Many consumers who have suffered accidents due to a Werner attic ladder breaking, after experiencing little success with getting help through Werner’s customer service channels, have taken to posting complaints and accident descriptions on various consumer review and reporting websites.
Surprisingly, a large number of the “Easy Access” ladder complaints featured on these websites were posted after 2008—the year the product line was retired—with some very recent entries dated in 2015. This suggests that many consumers still own and use these ladders without knowing of the potential dangers, especially since a recall was never issued. The complaints also commonly include several other unsettling details:
Poor Performance From The Start
Various customer reviews posted on the Amazon.com reviews section for the Werner S2208 model of “Easy Access” ladder say that the ladders showed signs of flimsiness even when brand new or barely used:
- “This ladder seemed flimsy. My suspicions were confirmed. First the bottom step broke, then the hinge broke causing me to fall. The ladder is rated for 300 pounds. I weigh 240 pounds. This ladder is unsafe.”
- “I bought this ladder 3 or 4 years ago and use it at Christmas Time and in the spring so it has less than 15 uses. Used it last weekend and when I folded it back up I found the locking hinged had broke [sic]. It’s advertised as a steel ladder, but the hinges are pot metal.”
More than half of reviewers (52%) also showed considerable dissatisfaction by leaving only a one-star rating for the product.
Accidents Resulting In Severe Injuries
Consumers frequently complained of injuries, with some serious enough to warrant surgery:
- A consumer in Texas wrote of a serious injury on Complaint Board: “My Werner steel attic steps model #2210 snapped at both lower hinges causing me to fall to the garage floor. I received a broken wrist that required two surgeries.”
- On the official reporting website of the Consumer Product and Safety Commission, a woman described a set of injuries suffered by her husband: “On April 15, 2014 my husband fell onto the cement garage floor when the hinges on the attic ladder he was ascending broke causing the bottom third of the ladder to completely break off. He was transported by ambulance to the hospital for…[surgery on his] fractured left tibia & fibula below the knee & left tibia above the ankle- he has a rod & three screws…In addition, he has numerous bumps and bruises as well as severe back pain which may be attributed to fractured ribs….[He is] unable to work.”
- Another outraged consumer wrote to the CPSC of extensive injuries inflicted upon her husband by an attic ladder: “As my husband was climbing our garage attic ladder (Werner S2210), he was halfway up when it snapped at the hinge and broke. He fell to the garage floor injuring his head, neck, back, and arms…I am very upset that this ladder has not been recalled already, it could have prevented my husband’s injuries.”
Additional reports can be found on Complaints Board and the CPSC-run SaferProducts.gov. Many commenters express shock at Werner’s refusal to recall a product line that continues to cause so many reported injuries.
Lack Of Concern From Manufacturer
Even worse, according to the complaints, oftentimes when consumers reach out to Werner customer service, they are denied assistance:
- A customer from Indiana complained of how Werner refused a reasonable replacement request: “The elbow hinge on my attic ladder broke while I was climbing it. I contacted the company about the problem and they refused to ship me a new hinge or ladder. I did nothing to cause the ladder to break except use it for it’s [sic] intended purpose.”
- Another customer who tried to get a refund / replacement commented, “[Werner] won’t stand by their product at all. Such a horrible experience with a Werner product and Werner Customer Service.”
- One man who was sorely bruised by falling from his attic ladder and only narrowly avoided falling on his 6-year-old daughter standing below was unable to get any response from Werner: “I have contacted Werner twice via their ‘contact us’ link on their website. Neither inquiry has received a response.”
Frustrated with Werner’s lack of response and / or refusal to assist with their defective product, some customers threatened to take legal action.
In 2013, a man named Lloyd Clemans filed a class action lawsuit regarding the “Easy Access Attic Ladder,” acting as the “representative plaintiff” for countless other consumers who experienced serious problems with the ladders. Clemans accused Werner and Lowe’s (the exclusive retailer for the ladders) of selling a dangerous, defective product and attempting to conceal potential hazards from consumers, among other allegations. Such actions, the lawsuit states, are in violation of Washington state consumer protection and fair business practice laws.
In their legal defense for the case, Werner and Lowe’s insisted that the ladders did not harbor defects. They also tried to convince the judge that because the affected units were manufactured by Old Ladder Co., a defunct company that went bankrupt after Werner acquired it, Werner should not be held liable for any problems consumers were having with the ladders.
Class Action Settled, But No Injury Compensation Given
Though Werner and Lowe’s vehemently denied the validity of the allegations put forth in the lawsuit, which was widely supported by thousands of their customers, they proposed a settlement agreement in January 2014 in order to resolve the case out of court.
However, only Lloyd Clemans was provided with monetary restitution, because he’d served as the representative for the class action. Every other “class member” was merely provided with a free wood or aluminum replacement ladder—no claimants received rightful compensation for pain, suffering, or financial difficulties from medical expenses caused by “Easy Access” ladder accidents, no matter how severe the injury.
Furthermore, even though homeowners continue to suffer harm from “Easy Access” ladders, as we’ve seen from numerous online complaints, consumers may no longer be able to obtain even a replacement ladder as offered in the class action settlement. The settlement resolution stated that settlement claim forms were to be offered at www.atticladdersettlement.com, but the website is now down.
Will The Unsatisfactory Settlement Lead To More Lawsuits?
Injured consumers who have had enough of being disregarded by Werner or other large manufacturers such as Louisville Ladder may be able to fight for fair compensation by filing individual lawsuits, even in situations where recalls or class action settlements have already been issued. Unlike class action suits, where the class representative makes all the decisions, individual lawsuits afford the plaintiff the power to reject insufficient settlements.
After all, manufacturers have a responsibility to protect consumers by taking reasonable measures to ensure that the products they offer are safe for their intended use. It’s only right for those who fail to uphold these safety standards to be held accountable and expected to properly compensate those harmed by their negligence.