Murchison & Cumming LLP

Trial Victory in Product Liability Case

June 28, 2022

After six years of litigation and a week in trial, a dismissal with prejudice was entered for defendant Louisville Ladder Company (Louisville) due to impeachment evidence against Plaintiff Richard Skinner (Skinner). Friedrich W. Seitz and Kelsey L. Maxwell represented the defendant.

The case began in Federal Court on May 6, 2016, when the plaintiff sued the defendant Louisville Ladder Company because of a fall from a ladder on May 18, 2014. The defendant admitted the ladder had a manufacturing defect but argued the defect did not cause the plaintiff to fall. The plaintiff suffered a severe injury shattering his left calcaneus. On the eve of trial, the Court granted the defendants motion to dismiss based on the plaintiff’s lack of standing as he had filed for bankruptcy without revealing this lawsuit which had become an asset of the bankrupt estate for the trustee in bankruptcy only to pursue. The plaintiff appealed the ruling and on January 9, 2019, the 9th Circuit affirmed the dismissal with prejudice.

The bankruptcy trustee filed a case in state court in 2018 after the Statute of Limitations had had run, alleging the same products liability claims, waited a year before serving Louisville with the lawsuit in January 2019. Louisville’s Demurrer based on the Statute of Limitations and failure to timely serve was denied the Court holding the Statute of Limitations was equitably tolled while the Federal action was pending The case was set go to trial on March 20, 2020, when the pandemic shut down the Court and was re-set for April 28, 2022.

In deposition and in trial, the plaintiff testified since the accident he is in constant excruciating pain, cannot walk more than 10-14 steps holding on to a railing, has extreme pain walking uphill, downhill, on rocks, uneven surfaces, step up from the road to the sidewalk, cannot walk more than a block, and walking from the parking lot to the store which is the reason he has a disabled parking placard. He testified his pain and limitations have been consistent and has kept him from working since the date of the accident. He denied participating in post-accident recreational activities specifically any hiking or having been in the mountains. Before trial, Louisville’s investigator discovered a photograph of the plaintiff on top of the 8,000-foot Half Dome in Yosemite, five years after the accident and an October 2019 permit issued to him to access Half Dome. After confirming Skinner understood he was testifying under oath and understood the meaning of the oath he had taken and reading into the record for the jury the instructions given to him relating to the oath he took before testifying in deposition he was confronted the with the blown-up photograph on top of Half Dome. Attempting to question the date of the photograph he was confronted with a blown-up photograph of the October 2019 permit issued to him. Additional photographs were shown to the jury of different stations up the mountain including the last pitch a 45-degree bare granite surface requiring the use of cables to ascend to the top. After Skinner admitted the hike to the top and back took 18 hours Court stopped the trial, excused the Jury, and advised the plaintiff of his 5th Amendment rights. Before the jury returned, the plaintiff agreed to a dismissal with prejudice for a waiver of costs.

 

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