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Stuhlmacher v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

December 17, 2014

KURT STUHLMACHER and KELLY STUHLMACHER, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
HOME DEPOT U.S.A., INCORPORATED and TRICAM INDUSTRIES, Defendants-Appellees

Argued November 4, 2014

Page 406

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. No. 2:10-cv-00467 -- Andrew P. Rodovich, Magistrate Judge.

For Kurt Stuhlmacher, Kelly Stuhlmacher, Plaintiffs - Appellants: James L. Clement Jr., Attorney, Lucas, Holcomb & Medrea, Merrillville, IN.

For Home Depot U.S.A., Incorporated, Tricam Industries, Defendants - Appellees: John P. McCorry, Attorney, Mcvey & Parsky, Chicago, IL.

Before MANION, WILLIAMS, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 407

Williams, Circuit Judge.

Kurt Stuhlmacher's parents purchased a ladder from Home Depot so that their son could work on the roof of a cabin he was building for them. Kurt was using the ladder for the first time when it fell, causing him to fall. Kurt and his wife brought a personal injury action against Home Depot and the ladder's manufacturer, Tricam Industries. At trial, the Stuhlmachers' expert, Dr. Thomas Conry, testified that the ladder was defective, likely causing Kurt to sense instability and involuntarily shift his weight. The magistrate judge struck Dr. Conry's testimony, finding that Dr. Conry's explanation of how the accident occurred did not " square" with Kurt's testimony that the ladder shot out to his left.

Because the testimony was stricken, the Stuhlmachers did not have any evidence showing causation, so the judge entered judgment as a matter of law for the defendants. We hold that the magistrate judge abused his discretion in striking Dr. Conry's testimony. We reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the case for a new trial.

I. BACKGROUND

On November 1, 2008, Kurt Stuhlmacher, a millwright technician, was building a cabin for his parents in Sullivan, Indiana. Three days earlier, his parents had purchased a four-legged fiberglass step ladder from Home Depot in order for Kurt to work on the roof. Kurt, using the ladder for the first time, had just begun to put together the rafters when the ladder fell. He grabbed onto a rafter for a moment and then fell on the right front rail of the ladder, striking his groin. As a result of the fall, Kurt injured his shoulder. The more significant injury, however, was to his penis. Doctors later diagnosed Kurt with Peyronie's disease, which causes extreme pain during erection and prevents him from having sexual intercourse.

Several hours after the fall, Kurt looked at the ladder and saw that it had come apart on the right rear side. The right rear spreader bracket rivets were pulled through the right rear rail. The ladder had been squeezed together and some of the diagonal step braces were bent. Kurt and his wife Kelly brought this product liability action against Home Depot and Tricam Industries. The complaint alleged that the rivets holding the support arm on one side of the ladder failed and caused the ladder to collapse.

The Stuhlmachers retained Dr. Conry, an accident reconstructionist with a doctorate in mechanical engineering, to support their claim that the subject ladder was defective and that the defect caused Kurt's fall. Dr. Conry prepared an accident report and was deposed by the defendants. Before trial, the defendants filed a motion in limine to exclude Dr. Conry's testimony under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, ...


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