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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Penis-Injury Suit Against Home Depot Revived

CHICAGO (CN) - A man who severely injured his penis in a fall from a brand-new ladder he says was defective may sue Home Depot, the 7th Circuit ruled.

On Nov. 1, 2008, Kurt Stuhlmacher was building a cabin for his parents in Indiana.

Just three days earlier, his parents bought him a brand-new, fiberglass step ladder from Home Depot so he could work on the roof.

But the first time Stuhlmacher used the four-legged ladder, it fell from under him, causing him to fall and strike his groin on the right front rail of the ladder.

As a result of his injury, Stuhlmacher developed Peyronie's disease, which causes him extreme pain during erection, and prevents him from having sex.

In a product-liability suit, Stuhlmacher and his wife, Kelly, blamed the ladder's collapse on a failure by the rivets holding the support arm on its right side.

They retained Dr. Thomas Conry to present expert testimony that the rivets in Stuhlmacher's ladder were different than the rivets for which the product's design drawings called, and were unable to bear a man's weight.

Conry opined that Stuhlmacher probably felt a change in the stiffness of the ladder, and involuntarily shifted his weight a split second before the ladder collapsed.

But Stuhlmacher had never said the ladder became unstable before it shot out from under him, so a federal magistrate in Hammond found Conry's testimony and Stuhlmacher's recollections conflicting.

The 7th Circuit revived the Stuhlmachers' case Wednesday, however, finding that "Dr. Conry's and Kurt's testimony are easily reconcilable, particularly since the fall happened so quickly."

An expert's hypothetical explanation of the possible causes of an event need not entirely "square" with the plaintiff's explanation, the court found.

"The question of whether the expert's theory is correct given the circumstances of a particular case is a factual one left for the jury to determine," Judge Ann Williams wrote for the three-judge panel.

"Here, the judge took that question away from the jury," Williams continued. "A jury could have found that Dr. Conry's theory of the accident was credible and that Kurt's testimony merely reflected his memory of the event as it was happening."

This is especially true given that Stuhlmacher's explanation of the event was not scientific, according to the judgment.

Stuhlmacher testified that the ladder "just, like, fell out - fell this way out from underneath me to the left," and he did not see whether it split before or after his fall because he tried to hold on to the rafter.

"Kurt's fall happened very quickly," Williams said. "He testified that he did not see or hear anything, but that the ladder suddenly moved to his left. His expert then reconstructed what happened and gave his opinion on how an alleged defect could have caused the accident. It is not the trial judge's job to determine whether the expert's opinion is correct."

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