Brian T. Monico
Brian T. Monico
David C. Wise
David C. Wise

A federal jury has awarded $11.1 million to a suburban man who suffered brain damage when the ladder he was using collapsed.

On Thursday, a jury in U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee’s court found in favor of John Baugh of Wheaton on his claim that the ladder was defectively designed and caused him to fall in 2006.

The award includes $7.1 million for past and future medical expenses, $2 million for loss of a normal life and $2 million for pain and suffering.

Lee entered judgment against the Mexican company Cuprum S.A. de C.V., the ladder’s designer and manufacturer.

The verdict comes after a federal jury originally found in favor of Cuprum in 2011. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that verdict, leading to the second trial.

Baugh was represented at the second trial by David C. Wise and Brian T. Monico, both of Burke, Wise, Morrissey, Kaveny.

“The family’s very happy and relieved,” Wise said.

One hurdle in trying the case, he said, was showing that the design of the ladder Baugh used was inherently prone to collapse.

While a manufacturing-defect claim involves showing there was a defect in one product among many of the same type, Wise said, a design-defect claim involves showing that all products of the same type have a defect even though they don’t all cause an injury.

Proving the case, Wise said, involved explaining the science behind the design-defect claim and disputing Cuprum’s arguments — while not confusing jurors who are unfamiliar with such topics as structural analysis.

The lead trial attorney for Cuprum was Dominick W. Savaiano of Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker LLP.

Savaiano said he believes jurors were motivated by sympathy for Baugh rather than by the facts of the case.

“Although Mr. Baugh sustained a regrettable injury, we are disappointed with the jury’s verdict and do not believe that the Cuprum ladder was defective or caused his injury,” he said in a statement. “The evidence was overwhelming that the ladder was well-made and exceeded all national standards.”

He said Cuprum is considering an appeal.

In August 2006, Baugh used an aluminum Cuprum ladder to reach the gutters on his home in Wheaton.

While Baugh was replacing the screws on the gutters, a rail on one side of the ladder collapsed and he fell on a cement driveway.

No one saw the accident, and Baugh’s injuries left him unable to remember what happened.

Baugh, who was 64 when he was injured, now lives in a nursing facility in Naperville.

His wife, Sharon, sued Cuprum on his behalf in federal court in Chicago under diversity jurisdiction.

Based outside Monterrey, Mexico, Cuprum sells most of its ladders exported to the U.S. under the Louisville Ladder brand.

The suit alleged the Cuprum ladder was defective because its rear legs and supports bent and shifted under Baugh’s weight.

Cuprum failed to warn consumers of these defects and failed to recall the ladder, the suit alleged.

During the first trial in 2011, a jury in U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer’s court returned a verdict in favor of Cuprum.

Wise appealed that verdict on behalf of Baugh, and the 7th Circuit overturned it and ordered a new trial. John Baugh v. Cuprum S.A. de C.V., No. 12-2019.

The appeals court held that Pallmeyer erred in allowing jurors — over the objections of Baugh’s original lawyers — to inspect a model of the ladder during deliberations. The ladder had not been admitted into evidence during the trial.

The trial before Lee began on May 26 and concluded Thursday with the verdict.

The case is John Baugh v. Cuprum S.A. de C.V., No. 08 C 4204.