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Baugh v. Cuprum S.A. de C.V.

January 12, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable David H. Coar


Plaintiff John Baugh, through his wife and next friend, Sharon Baugh, filed this products-liability suit under Illinois law, alleging that he sustained a severe head injury from a fall caused by a sudden malfunction of his Cuprum type III model no. 608-05 ladder. The parties being diverse, this court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. All defendants have moved for summary judgment on Baugh's negligence and strict-liability claims. For the reasons that follow, their motion is DENIED.


On August 1, 2006, John Baugh sustained severe head injuries in an unfortunate accident of some sort. It is undisputed that nobody saw the accident-or even saw Baugh working on his ladder that day-except for Baugh himself, whose traumatic injuries have left him unable to remember what happened. Baugh alleges, however, that while he was on his Cuprum ladder replacing some rusty gutter screws on his house, the ladder's frame suddenly bent, causing him to fall to his driveway. Baugh's physicians have stated that he sustained, among other things, an intracranial hemorrhage with bifrontal contusions complicated by seizures, and that he has severe, ongoing physical and cognitive deficits as a result of the trauma to his head. As detailed below, the court views the circumstantial evidence regarding the accident in the light most favorable to Baugh.

Lori Strehl's Deposition Testimony

On August 1, 2006, Lori Strehl lived across the street from Baugh on Marion Street in Wheaton, Illinois. Around 7:00 a.m. that day, Strehl saw Baugh inside his garage working with a toolbox. She was packing her car, which was facing her garage at the time. Strehl waved to Baugh, who waved back. She finished packing and went into her house for a couple of minutes. When she came back out, she strapped her two sons into the back seat of her car, backed out of her driveway, and headed west on Marion Street.

As Strehl backed out of her driveway, she saw Baugh sitting in the northwest corner of his driveway, near his garage. She waved to him again, but this time he did not wave back. Strehl saw that the ladder was down, too; it was laying on its right side on the driveway. Strehl grew concerned that Baugh had not waved back to her. So after traveling about a block and a half on Marion Street, she returned home. She pulled into Baugh's driveway and found him laying on his back. He sat up and wiped blood from his nose. His nostrils were still bleeding, there was a split on the back of his head, and his eyes were glazed. Strehl asked him whether he was okay, but he did not respond. There was a pool of blood on the driveway between Baugh and the ladder, which was facing the northeasterly direction. The leg on the right side of the ladder was bent upward below the brace. Baugh had a screwdriver in his right hand. Strehl found his glasses in his garage by the steps that lead into the house. Strehl testified that after the accident, Baugh's wife Sharon told her that Baugh was going to change rusted gutter screws.

Therese Kushman's Deposition Testimony

Therese Kushman was Baugh's next-door neighbor on Marion Street on August 1, 2006. When she exited her house that morning, she saw Baugh sitting on his driveway; Strehl was near him on her cell phone. The ladder was behind Baugh, on its side, with the top cap pointing in a two o'clock (i.e., northeast) direction and the right lower rail bent inward below the bottom step. Baugh and the ladder were both located in the northwest quadrant of the driveway. Baugh had a gash on the back of his head, and there was blood on the driveway. Kushman asked Baugh what had happened and how he was doing, but Baugh did not respond verbally. He did not respond to the paramedics either.

When Kushman and her husband went into Baugh's garage later on August 1, 2006, they found a package of gutter screws and some tools like the one Baugh had in his hand out on Baugh's tool cabinet. Baugh's wife Sharon told Kushman that Baugh had been planning to change the gutter screws while she was at work on August 1, 2006, because they were causing rust stains on the gutters.

Ed Troutman's Deposition Testimony

Ed Troutman, a member of the Winfield Fire Department, responded to a call at Baugh's home on August 1, 2006. When he arrived at the scene at 8:05 a.m., he saw Baugh down on the ground in the northwest part of his driveway, facing southeast in roughly the five-o'clock position, with the ladder down on the ground near him. (Troutman could not be any more specific than that). The right leg of the ladder was bent in and the left leg was twisted. A screwdriver was on the driveway, within inches of Baugh; Baugh's glasses were found inside the garage near the door into the house. Troutman was unable to obtain any history or verbal responses from Baugh, and nobody at the scene claimed to have witnessed the accident. Troutman left the scene at 8:15 a.m.

David Formento's Deposition Testimony

David Formento, a lieutenant in the Winfield Fire Department, also responded. When he arrived at the scene, he saw Baugh sitting on his driveway facing south in roughly the five-o'clock position. The ladder was on its side in the northwest quadrant of the driveway, within two or three feet of Baugh. The top part of the ladder was closest to Baugh's back and faced northwest, in roughly the eleven-o'clock position, the same position Baugh's head was pointing. It appeared to Formento that Baugh had hit his head on the concrete. There was a pool of blood and Baugh's glasses were about twenty to twenty-five feet away from him.

Formento observed that the ladder was bent and described it as "definitely deformed." When he first saw it, he blurted out, ...

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