Scissor Lift Manufacturer Wins Directed Verdict after Month-to-Month Product Liability Trial
CVN screenshot of plaintiff’s attorney Emily Ruby, left, and defense attorney Jeffrey Zinder, right, giving their opening statements
Santa Ana, California – A scissor lift manufacturer has obtained a direct verdict in its favor following a product liability lawsuit in a state court in California involving claims that the design of the elevator dropped an operator over 12 feet and sustained a devastating head injury.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert Moss issued 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 over his fall of a 1930ES-branded scissor lift while replacing windows in a hotel renovation.
Justice Moss granted JLG’s motion about a month after the jury heard opening statements on August 30. The opening arguments and all testimony at trial were taped with a hammer by Courtroom View Network.
Camacho, whose attorneys told CVN he will need 24-hour residential care for the rest of his life, accused JLG of designing the elevator entrance with only a flimsy chain latch that did not provide adequate fall protection. They accused JLG of failing to conduct any consumer use studies to determine whether or not the elevator design posed a safety risk without the inclusion of a self-locking barrier and plinth. at the entrance to the elevator, which they said were standard features of elevators designed by other manufacturers.
JLG’s lawyers have maintained that the fall occurred due to Camacho’s allegedly dangerous behavior on the elevator, including his alleged failure to close the chain latch.
The judge’s decision fell into the causal phase of the forked trial, and lead defense counsel Jeffrey Zinder of Zinder & Koch told CVN that once trial testimony made it clear that the latch on the chain had not been used, the question of causation had become moot.
“Unless you were using the channel, you can’t claim the channel was inadequate,” Zinder said. “In this case, there was no evidence that the chain had been used.”
Lead counsel for the plaintiff, Emily Ruby of Greenberg and Ruby Injury Attorneys APC, sharply criticized the judge’s decision, calling it a “miscarriage of justice”.
“We believe the action taken by the Court was inappropriate and constituted an abuse of discretion, and we engaged counsel for the appellant 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 elevators with chain latches before Camacho’s fall, and that the American National Standards Institute, a private, non-profit organization that oversees the development of voluntary industry standards, had previously determined that scissor lifts should include the self-closing door and plinth that the 1930ES model lacked.
“Despite the court severely limiting the scope of expert testimony from plaintiffs and cross-examinations of JLG representatives and experts and preventing plaintiffs from presenting highly relevant evidence and testimony as to causation, plaintiffs still have presented substantial evidence of causation through their experts, as well as through the testimony of the employees of the general contractor and the employer of the plaintiff Camacho, which makes the Court’s decision puzzling to say the least ”, Ruby said.
However, Zinder accused the plaintiff team of relying on an animation prepared by an expert witness depicting Camacho’s fall which Zinder said showed anatomically impossible body movements. He argued that even with the chain latch left open, the elevator still had a 42-inch guardrail that users had to physically hide to get out of, which he said provided significant fall protection.
“His animation would make a limbo champion jealous,” Zinder told CVN, describing Camacho’s fall as an isolated incident.
“From our point of view, the design of a chain closure with no similar incidents reported was not flawed in design, and we have proven it,” he said.
Despite this, Zinder suggested the court ruling had broader implications for personal injury lawsuits involving scissor lifts.
“It should certainly send a message to the Complainants Bar that this type of alleged defect does not exist,” he said. “There are experts in the mind that they can hire. “
California does not allow recovery of attorney fees in cases ending in imposed verdicts, but Zinder said he would be eligible for cost recovery in the long-standing litigation.
Nonetheless, Zinder praised the lawyers representing Camacho at the trial.
“The plaintiff’s lawyers did a very good job,” he said. “They just didn’t have the facts to back up their theories.”
A Gavel-to-gavel video of the trial, including all expert testimony and all exhibits and demonstrations 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 lawyers from California and across the United States.
Click here to read a copy of the defense motion for a directed verdict
Click here to read a copy of the complainants’ opposition
The case is captioned Raul Camacho v. JLG Industries Inc., case number 30-2017-00902499-CU-PO-CJC at the Orange County Superior Court.
Email David Siegel at [email protected]