Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, July 21, 2023


Page 1


Court of Appeal:

Jury Should Decide If Faulty Design Resulted in Mishap

Majority Declares Jurors Might Conclude That Alternate Design of Mechanical Lift Could Have Prevented a Fall; Bedsworth Says in Dissent That Manufacturers Can’t Be Expected to Render Products Safe From Human Error


By a MetNews Staff Writer



Above is a trial exhibit in Raul Camacho’s action against the manufacturer of a lift from which he fell when it was elevated. Camacho had not secured the safety chain. The majority of a Court of Appeal panel held on Wednesday that a jury should have been presented with the question of whether the lift should have been equipped with a self-closing gate rather than a chain. Instead, the judge granted a motion for a nonsuit.

Div. Three of the Fourth District Court of Appeal has reversed a judgment pursuant to an order granting a nonsuit in favor of the manufacturer of a mechanical lifting platform from which the plaintiff fell, incurring a brain injury, holding that a jury might have found that the accident would not have occurred if the “scissors lift” had a self-closing gate rather than a safety-chain or if there had been a sign with an explicit reminder to latch the chain.

Justice Eileen C. Moore authored the majority opinion, in which Justice Thomas M. Goethals concurred. Acting Presiding Justice William W. Bedsworth dissented, saying that there was no substantial evidence of fault on the part of the defendant.

Under the majority’s opinion, filed Wednesday, a jury will decide whether JLG Industries Inc. is liable to plaintiff Raul Camacho based on a design defect or a failure to warn.

His theory at trial was that the lift was so designed as to create a danger of falling if a user of it failed to latch the lock, as he had, and that a warning sign should have been more effectively phrased. The sign said, “Ensure entrance area is properly closed.”

Orange Superior Court Judge Robert J. Moss found that there was nothing to go to the jury, saying that Camacho had “failed to present substantial evidence of causation and that JLG is entitled to a directed verdict on all...causes of action.”

Defective Design

Addressing the defective-design theory, Moore wrote:

“As far as the defective design claim, based on the evidence presented at trial, we find the jury could have reasonably inferred JLG’s scissor lift as designed with the chain and no toe board at the entrance was a substantial factor in causing Camacho’s injuries. In other words, it is a reasonable inference that JLG’s alternative design with a self-closing gate would have prevented Camacho from needing to latch the chain, and the toe board would have further prevented him from not realizing he was at the edge of the platform just before he fell.”

JLG noted that Camacho did not testify and a co-worker who did take the stand did not indicate why the chain was not latched. Moore responded:

“While factually true, this argument is a red herring.

“It is undisputed the chain was not latched when Camacho fell out of the scissor lift. Although Camacho did not testify, it does not matter whether the chain was not latched because he forgot, because he decided it was unnecessary, because the glass got in the way, or any other possible reason. Camacho’s design defect theory was that the active safety device (the manual chain) invited human error—regardless of the reason—and the design was dangerous given the reasonable alternative passive safety device (the self-closing gate) that would have prevented his fall and severe injuries.”

Failure to Warn

Turning to the failure-to-warn theory, Moore said:

“[T]he warning label on JLG’s scissor lift did not explicitly warn users to latch the chain, and the placard was six feet away from where the latch and the chain were located….[I]t is a reasonable inference that had JLG’s warning label explicitly warned Camacho of the need to latch the chain, and had it been placed near the entrance, then Camacho may have heeded the warning, latched the chain, and not have fallen off the lift.”

JLG argued that there was no evidence that Camacho “read and relied on the allegedly inadequate warning.”

Moore noted that the day before the accident—which was Camacho’s first day on the job—the plaintiff received a 30-minute orientation as to using the lift and was watched as he operated it. She said:

“This means Camacho was in close proximity to the warning label for some meaningful period of time. While there is no direct evidence Camacho observed the warning label, we find there is substantial circumstantial evidence to support that reasonable inference.”

Bedsworth’s Dissent

Bedsworth noted in his dissent that the American National Standards Institute (“ANSI”) and Cal/OSHA had proclaimed a scissors lift with a chain guard to meet safety standards. He set forth:

“In doing so, they must have been aware that human beings forget. But if failure to somehow prevent that universal human foible is a design defect, I don’t know how we can allow the marketing of anything from mousetraps to jet planes. And unless you are selling to the elderly or others especially susceptible to forgetfulness, I’m not sure I’m ready to require you to failsafe forgetfulness.

 “It is easy to forget to buckle the seatbelt when you get into your car; we’ve all been halfway up the street when we realize we’ve done this. And it would be easy to prevent this potentially life-threatening mistake by making it impossible to start the car without fastening the belt. But we continue to manufacture millions of automobiles with this ‘design defect.’ And I am confident I could come up with ways to prevent forgetfulness from endangering people that could be required of countless other products if I had a better imagination or the assistance of an engineer.

“But I think the courts have wisely concluded this is something for legislatures—and safety organizations like ANSI and Cal/OSHA—to consider rather than us. So quite apart from the fact there is nothing to make even a prima facie case of forgetfulness here, I do not think we can require most products to be forgetfulness-proof.”

Self-Closing Gate

He added, with respect to the alternative of a self-closing gate:

“I cannot find any case in which a safety device approved by industry standards and complying with government regulations has been found to be defective because another, purportedly safer, design was available.”

In a footnote, Moore remarked that Bedsworth “repeatedly states that we infer that Camacho forgot to latch the chain,” and said: “Respectfully, we make no such inference.” Bedsworth commented, also in a footnote:

“My colleagues say they do not infer that Mr. Camacho forgot to latch the chain….That confuses me. I can’t imagine they are taking the position a consumer who makes a conscious decision not to use a safety device can sue on the basis that the product is defective because others might someday forget to use the safety device, but that is the only alternative theory to forgetfulness in this case.”

Adequacy of Warning

Bedsworth also wrote:

“As for the adequacy vel non of the warning label, we are again back to the fact there is no evidence to support the theory. No one will ever know if Mr. Camacho saw the warning label. There is neither testimony nor evidence on that point….What we do know is that he was instructed on the use of the chain, he was told to use it, he was observed using it for a day and a half, and the warning label was clearly visible.  “What’s more, my colleagues’ theory is that a jury might conclude the scissor lift was defective because it failed to prevent a user from forgetting to use the safety chain. I am unable to imagine how a warning label could be worded so as to prevent someone from forgetting something. ‘Don’t forget’ is one of the least effective admonitions in the English language.”

The case is Camacho v. JLG Industries Inc., 2023 S.O.S. 2593.

Camacho was represented by Emily A. Ruby of the Los Angeles firm of Greenberg & Ruby, LLP, located in the Carthay area; Dylan Ruga and Brian Poulter of the Stalwart Law Group in West Hollywood; and Jeffrey I. Ehrlich of The Ehrlich Law Firm in Claremont. Attorneys on appeal for JLG were Peter Linley Choate of the downtown Los Angeles firm of Tucker Ellis LLP; Jeffrey E. Zinder of the Santa Clarita Valley firm of Zinder & Koch, and McCoy Leavitt Laskey, Brook Laskey and Stephanie Demers of Albuquerque, New Mexico.




Justice Moore Ponders Hypothetical Issue


In the course of her majority opinion in Camacho v. JLG Industries Inc., Justice Eileen Moore digressed to discuss an “interesting hypothetical question” that was posed “during oral argument” in the case. She wrote:

Many newer cars and trucks include a safety feature that detects another vehicle in an adjacent lane. A “blind spot indicator” then notifies the driver of the potential danger. The hypothetical question was: what if there is an accident in a vehicle without a blind spot indicator, can a plaintiff sue the manufacturer claiming the vehicle was defective because it lacked this relatively new safety feature?

We think the answer is undoubtedly yes. That is, a plaintiff could certainly initiate or file such a hypothetical lawsuit. As the California Supreme Court has expressly emphasized, one of the major policy goals of strict products liability tort litigation is “to improve the safety features of a product.”…Indeed, “the concept of strict products liability was created and shaped judicially.”…

However, we are uncertain whether a plaintiff could prevail or win in a hypothetical defective design lawsuit involving a blind spot indicator. In order to overcome a motion for nonsuit, the plaintiff would first need to make a prima facie showing that the current design of the vehicle (presumably with standard mirrors) was a substantial factor in causing his or her injuries (a blind spot indicator likely would have prevented the accident). Assuming the plaintiff met that burden, the manufacturer would then undoubtedly present evidence regarding the risks, benefits, and relative costs of the two alternative safety designs. Ultimately, we trust that a hypothetical jury would then fairly evaluate the facts after being instructed on the law.


Copyright 2023, Metropolitan News Company