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'Tis the Season to Check Your Ladders

More than half a million people in the United States suffer ladder-related injuries every year, and increased ladder use in the winter months results in a higher proportion of falls between October and March than at any other time of the year.

Injuries incurred in a fall from a ladder can have devastating long-term effects on the quality of life and well-being of the injured party. Some of these accidents are caused by defective ladders, and it may be possible to pursue a product liability claim against the manufacturer or supplier.

Product Liability

The principles of product liability hold manufacturers, distributors, suppliers and retailers responsible for injuries caused by their products. A product liability claim is usually based on design defects, manufacturing defects of insufficient warning documentation, often termed as "failure to warn."

As with any product, a ladder exhibiting design defects is not fit for its intended purpose and may be dangerous to use. For example, if a certain configuration of an extension ladder results in the feet not resting fully on the ground, this can allow the ladder to slip out from the wall when in use and lead to a fall.

Manufacturing defects occur when the product deviates from its intended design. Problems with ladder construction can lead to cracks or stress points within the metal or fiberglass, causing rungs to snap or the frame to buckle and twist when in use.

It is the manufacturer's responsibility to protect themselves from product liability claims by providing adequate instructions for use and suitable warnings to protect their customers. For example, it is standard for manufacturers to warn whether a ladder is suitable (or unsuitable) for external use, to warn that the ladder should be fully extended before use and to warn the user to put the ladder on a sure footing are all standard.

Theory of Liability

A plaintiff and their legal team must consider the theory or theories of liability on which to base their product liability claim. If claiming negligence, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the manufacturer failed to meet its obligations to provide goods fit for the intended purpose, to exercise care and diligence in the design and manufacture of their product, and to conduct a suitable inspection on the finished product. Additionally it must be evident that the plaintiff was injured while using the product in a foreseeable manner. Under a strict liability system, however, the plaintiff no longer has the burden of proof to establish that the manufacturer or retailer of a product breached their duty of care.

Some product liability cases turn on breach of warranty: This is usually applicable where the manufactures violates their written warranty documentation or makes no disclaimers such as "with faults" or "as is".

If you think that you may have a product liability claim, it is essential to contact a legal adviser with the details of your case as soon as possible. The only information you will need is a description of events surrounding the accident. The legal team will then investigate your claim and build their case.

Many manufacturers seek to provide a settlement to the injured party as a manner of compensation. The size of this settlement is often discussed and agreed upon by the respective legal teams outside of court, minimizing the inconvenience, stress and cost of what may be a lengthy legal battle. If a settlement agreement can not be reached, then the case will proceed to court.

*article courtesy of Phillips & Lyon.

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