A 40-year-old hunter was paralyzed from the waist down when the climbing belt he was wearing in a tree failed and he fell 25-30 feet to the ground in woods near his home. Represented by attorney Roberta D. Pichini, the case was settled after several years of intense litigation, and on the eve of trial, against the manufacturer and retailer of the climbing belt for $5.2 million dollars. By agreement of the parties, the identities of the defendants will not be disclosed.
The plaintiff wanted a belt to allow him to hang hands-free from a tree while installing a treestand for bowhunting. The so-called climbing belt he purchased for this purpose was defective because of its misleading packaging, labeling and instructions, and inadequate warnings, all of which caused the plaintiff to mistakenly use the product around his waist. Although the product is labeled a “lineman’s belt,” it is in fact not a lineman’s belt as the term is customarily used in industry. It was actually intended by the manufacturer to go around a tree. If used as lineman’s belt, as it was by the plaintiff, the buckle that secures the climber’s waist can in some circumstances become unlatched, resulting in catastrophic falls.
The first year of litigation was spent opposing defendants’ unrelenting efforts to move the case from Philadelphia to the county where the fall took place. After ten motions by defendants, including two petitions to the Superior Court, the case was conclusively determined to be properly venued in Philadelphia.
Feldman Shepherd assembled a nationally-recognized team of experts who conducted detailed analysis in mechanical engineering, metallurgy, fall arrest, consumer issues, product warnings and instructions, and those human factors that influence a consumer’s understanding of a product’s use. These experts enumerated the failings of the products’ packaging, instructions, and warnings and defended the conduct of the injured plaintiff, who was now wrongfully being blamed for his own tragic and life-altering injuries. Testing was conducted to refute the claims of defendants’ experts. Additional experts were retained to explain the severity of the plaintiffs’ losses and damages: vocational experts, life-care planners, psychologists, and experts in rehabilitation medicine and economics. They conducted extensive examinations of the injured plaintiff, his wife, and family for presentation to the jury.
Feldman Shepherd also engaged an experienced videographer who produced a detailed film showing a typical day in the life of the injured plaintiff and his wife, with emphasis on the time-consuming and humiliating regimen now required for him to complete even the most basic activities of daily living.
Additionally, technical video experts were engaged to produce short films of the before and after lives of the plaintiffs, illustrating the dramatic and tragic changes to their married life and family activities. These films were effective in demonstrating to defendants’ insurance carriers the enormity of plaintiffs’ losses. Technical experts also prepared extensive high-tech exhibits in anticipation of trial to demonstrate to the jury the admissions made by defendants at their videotaped depositions and to help educate the jury about the defective product.
It is anticipated that the settlement will help meet the needs of the plaintiffs and their family and provide for optimum rehabilitative and other care for this injured husband and father.