Sears Loses $7M Liability Case

By Marie Vasari
(Alhambra Post-Advocate)

The verdict, rendered Jan. 30 by an Alhambra Municipal Court jury, held that Sears, Roebuck & Company was at least partially responsible for the 1984 incident which left Scott Garland a quadriplegic. Garland, now 35, was injured when the Sears extension ladder he was using slipped out from under him, throwing him approximately 15 feet and damaging his spinal column.

Attorney Suzelle M. Smith said the 1984 accident left the Monrovia resident paralyzed from the chest down, without the use of his arms or legs and with only marginal use of his fingers. Because of his injuries, Smith said her client was unable to continue working at a time when his reputation was becoming established and he was preparing to start his own business. Smith, an attorney from the Los Angeles-based law firm of Howarth & Smith, represented Garland in the suit against Sears, along with partner Don Howarth.

"This is certainly the largest ruling against Sears in any ladder case that I'm aware of," Smith said.

Garland was working as a volunteer for a church play at the Sierra Madra Congregational Church when he and another volunteer used a Sears Heavy Duty 36-foot extension ladder, to retrieve pipes stored in the rafters of the church gymnasium. The two set up the ladder against one of the rafters, Smith said, and although Garland tested the ladder, it slipped out from under him as he stood six rungs from the top. The ladder, manufactured in 1970, was purchased by the church through Sears' catalogues.

The jury, after deliberating for four and one-half days, ruled that Sears was negligent in the design of the ladder and in failing to provide adequate consumer safety warnings. The silver-colored ladder equipped on its inside with a label of the same color and white lettering which read, "Safest, strongest for all home, farm, commercial, industrial uses," and stated the ladder should be set up at a one-to-four ratio from the base to the wall, or a 75 degree angle. Garland's attorneys argued that the warning was inconspicuous, inadequate and did not state the consequences of improper set-up.

Attorneys for Sears had argued that the ladder was not defective because it violated no existing standards at the time of it was manufactured, and that Garland failed to use common sense or heed the warnings of his co-worker.