CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Emily Ruby, left, and defense attorney Jeffrey Zinder, right, delivering their opening statements
Santa Ana, CA - A scissor lift manufacturer has obtained a directed verdict in its favor following a products liability trial in California state court involving claims that the lift’s design caused an operator to fall over 12 feet and suffer a devastating traumatic brain injury.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert Moss entered an order on September 30 granting the motion for a directed verdict filed by defendant JLG Industries Inc, a subsidiary of Oshkosh Corporation. Plaintiff Raul Camacho sued JLG in 2017 following his fall from a 1930ES brand scissor lift while replacing windowpanes as part of a hotel renovation.
Judge Moss granted JLG’s motion roughly a month after the jury heard opening statements on August 30. The opening arguments and all witness testimony in the trial were recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.
Camacho, whose attorneys told CVN will require 24-hour residential care for the remainder of his life, accused JLG of designing the lift entrance with only a flimsy chain latch that didn’t offer adequate fall protection. They accused JLG of failing do any consumer use studies to determine whether or not the lift’s design posed a safety risk without the inclusion of a self-latching gate and toe board at the lift’s entrance, that they argued were standard features in lifts designed by other manufacturers.
JLG’s attorneys maintained the fall occurred because of Camacho’s allegedly unsafe behavior on the lift, including his supposed failure to close the chain latch.
The judge’s ruling came down in the causation phase of the bifurcated trial, and lead defense counsel Jeffrey Zinder of Zinder & Koch told CVN that once the trial testimony made clear the chain latch hadn’t been used that the question of causation was rendered moot.
“Unless you use the chain you cannot make the claim that the chain was inadequate,” Zinder said. “In this case there was no evidence the chain had been used.”
Lead plaintiff counsel Emily Ruby of Greenberg and Ruby Injury Attorneys APC sharply criticized the judge’s ruling, characterizing it as a “miscarriage of justice.”
“We believe that the action taken by the Court was improper and an abuse of discretion, and we have retained appellant counsel to begin working on the appeal immediately,” she said.
Ruby accused the court of improperly excluding key evidence that JLG knew other manufacturers had already voluntarily stopped designing lifts with chain latches prior to Camacho’s fall, and that the American National Standards Institute, a private non-profit that oversees the development of voluntary industrial standards, had already determined scissor lifts should include the self-closing gate and toe board that the 1930ES model lacked.
“Despite the court significantly limiting the scope of Plaintiffs’ experts’ testimony and cross-examinations of JLG’s representatives and experts and precluding Plaintiffs from introducing highly relevant evidence and testimony as to causation, Plaintiffs still presented substantial evidence of causation through their experts, as well as through the testimony of employees of the general contractor and plaintiff Camacho’s employer, which makes the Court’s decision puzzling to say the least,” Ruby said.
However Zinder accused the plaintiffs team of relying on an animation prepared by an expert witness depicting Camacho’s fall that Zinder said showed body movements that were anatomically impossible. He argued that even with the chain latch left open, the lift still had a 42-inch guardrail users have to physically duck under to exit, which he said offered significant fall protection.
“His animation would make a limbo champion jealous,” Zinder told CVN, describing Camacho’s fall as an isolated incident.
“From our view the design of a chain closure without any reported similar incidents was not defective in design, and we proved it,” he said.
Despite that, Zinder suggested the court’s decision had broader implications for personal injury lawsuits involving scissor lifts.
“It certainly should send a message to the plaintiff’s bar that this type of claimed defect does not exist,” he said. “It exists in the minds of experts that they can hire.”
California does not allow the recovery of attorney’s fees in cases ending in directed verdicts, but Zinder said he would be eligible to recover costs in the long-running litigation.
Nonetheless Zinder spoke highly of the attorneys representing Camacho at trial.
“The plaintiff’s attorneys did a very good job,” he said. “They just didn’t have the facts to support their theories.”
Gavel-to-gavel video of the trial, including all expert testimony and all exhibits and demonstratives displayed in the courtroom, is available with a subscription to CVN’s online trial video library, which contains hundreds of civil jury trials featuring top attorneys from California and throughout the United States.
The case is captioned Raul Camacho v. JLG Industries Inc., case number 30-2017-00902499-CU-PO-CJC in Orange County Superior Court.
E-mail David Siegel at email@example.com