John Baugh, by and through his Wife and Next Friend, Sharon Baugh, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Cuprum S.A. de C.V., Defendant-Appellant.
November 2, 2016
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 08 CV 4204 - John
Z. Lee, Judge.
Wood, Chief Judge, and Posner and Williams, Circuit Judges.
Williams, Circuit Judge.
Baugh fell off a ladder while replacing gutter screws and
suffered a traumatic brain injury. He sued the ladder's
manufacturer, Cuprum, alleging that the ladder had
unexpectedly collapsed and caused him to fall because it had
been defectively designed. At the conclusion of trial, a
jury, finding in Baugh's favor, awarded him over $11
million in damages. Following the verdict, Cuprum filed a
motion for a new trial and for judgment as a matter of law,
but the district judge denied it.
appeal, Cuprum contends that this denial was improper. Cuprum
maintains that it was entitled to a new trial primarily
because the district judge erroneously permitted two of
Baugh's experts to testify about critical issues. But
both experts' methodologies were adequate, and
Cuprum's various complaints affected the weight of the
experts' testimony rather than its admissibility. In
addition, Cuprum contends that it was entitled to judgment as
a matter of law because Baugh had failed to prove that the
ladder contained an unreasonably dangerous condition and that
this condition was the most probable cause of the accident.
When viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to
Baugh, however, we conclude that a reasonable jury could have
found in Baugh's favor. Baugh supplied sufficient
evidence demonstrating that a feasible alternative existed,
and that the accident was more likely attributable to the
ladder's original defective design than to an improper
use of the ladder. So we affirm the district court's
judgment in Baugh's favor.
Baugh fell off a five-foot, A-frame aluminum ladder while
replacing several rusty screws in a gutter on his garage.
Baugh sustained significant bruising and bleeding in the
frontal area of his brain, which caused him to suffer
seizures, dementia, and quadriplegia and inhibited his
ability to perform myriad routine functions such as taking
medicine orally, urinating without a catheter, recognizing
shapes and angles, and reading a one-paragraph excerpt and
answering simple questions like who, what, and where. On his
behalf, Baugh's wife Sharon sued Cuprum, a Mexico-based
company that designed and manufactured the ladder, alleging a
design defect under strict liability and negligence theories.
Baugh argued that the ladder was not designed to be strong
enough to accommodate the weight of individuals at or near
200 pounds, and that a feasible alternate design would
have prevented the accident. But Cuprum argued that the
ladder was designed to adequately support the weight of
individuals weighing up to 200 pounds, and that the accident
occurred because Baugh climbed too high on the ladder and
stood on its fourth step and pail shelf, neither of which
were intended to be stood on. (Pail shelves are often square
in shape, attached near the top of ladders, and used to hold
paint cans and other painting equipment.)
parties proceeded to trial and a jury found in Cuprum's
favor. However, we remanded the case for a new trial because
the exemplar ladder, which had the same core specifications
as Baugh's, was improperly given to jurors during jury
deliberations. See generally Baugh ex rel. Baugh v.
Cuprum S.A. de C.V., 730 F.3d 701 (7th Cir. 2013).
the second trial, Baugh elicited testimony from two of his
neighbors and a paramedic, all of whom arrived to the scene
post-accident. However, Baugh-the only eyewitness to the
accident-did not testify at either trial, we assume, because
of the severity of his injuries. Baugh also elicited
testimony from a number of experts relating to the cause of
the accident and the severity of his resulting physical
injuries. Notably, Dr. Jack Vinson, a mechanical engineer,
testified about the ladder's design. Relying on
handwritten calculations based on centuries-old mathematics
principles, Dr. Vinson opined that the ladder could withstand
up to 35, 000 pounds per square inch (PSI), and that a
200-pound person could exert as many as 97, 700 PSI while
using the ladder. Dr. Vinson opined further that the ladder
could have accommodated a 200-pound person if it had thicker
legs and thicker and longer gussets. (Gussets are metal bars
that provide bracing support by connecting the leg of a
ladder to the first step.)
Smith, a mechanical engineer, supplied causation testimony on
Baugh's behalf. He opined that: (i) Baugh was facing the
house and the gutter as he climbed the ladder (which was the
intended use); (ii) all four of the ladder's feet were in
Baugh's concrete driveway; (iii) Baugh was standing on
the third step of the ladder (the highest intended step);
(iv) the ladder tipped to the right; (v) the
shorter-than-necessary gusset on the ladder's right front
side could not support Baugh's weight, thereby causing
the ladder's right front leg to fail and Baugh to fall
onto his concrete driveway; and (vi) a longer gusset would
have prevented the accident.
elicited contrary testimony regarding design and causation.
Dr. Michael Stevenson, a metallurgical engineer, opined that
a 250-pound person could never exert more than 24, 000
PSI-well within the ladder's range of tolerance. Dr.
Stevenson reached this conclusion using the computer-based
"finite element analysis" method. In addition,
Michael Van Bree, a mechanical engineer, opined that: (i)
Baugh was facing away from the house and gutter as he climbed
the ladder (an improper use); (ii) two of the ladder's
feet were in the driveway, while the other two were in an
adjacent flower bed; (iii) the ladder tipped to the left
while Baugh was straddling it, with one foot on the pail
shelf and the other on the ladder's fourth step (both
improper uses); and (iv) Baugh lost balance, causing the
ladder to tip over and Baugh to fall into the flower bed.
jury ultimately found in Baugh's favor and awarded him
$11 million. The district judge denied Cuprum's motion
for judgment as a matter of law and, alternatively, for a new
trial. This appeal followed.
Cuprum Not Entitled to a New Trial
appeal, Cuprum maintains that the district judge erred in
denying its motion for a new trial. We review such denials
for abuse of discretion and where, as here, the moving party
alleges an erroneous admission of evidence during trial,
"we will grant a new trial only if the error had a
substantial influence over the jury and the result reached
was inconsistent with substantial justice." Saathoff
v. Davis, 826 F.3d 925, 930 (7th Cir. 2016).
principal justification for a new trial concerns the district
judge's denial of several of its motions in
limine (MILs) concerning Dr. Vinson, Baugh's design
expert, and Smith, Baugh's causation expert. Although
none of the MILs explicitly cited Federal Rule of Evidence
702 or Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509
U.S. 579 (1993), their substantive arguments were
unequivocally rooted in both-specifically, that Dr.
Vinson's alternative-design opinions were un- reliable,
and that Smith was unqualified and proffered causation
opinions based on unreliable methodology. Indeed, the MILs
repeatedly used these Rule 702/Daubert buzzwords and
cited multiple cases applying the related framework. So the
district judge should have treated the MILs as invoking Rule
702 and Daubert. And it ...