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As we approach deer hunting season, many hunters are preparing by setting up tree stands. These are elevated platforms – usually 10 to 30 feet – that give hunters a greater vantage point and make it tougher for deer to pick up on human scent.
But these stands are known to be dangerous. In 2010, a decade-long study by trauma centers in Ohio, published in The American Surgeon medical journal, revealed tree stand falls were a bigger problem for hunters than gunshots, element exposure or animal encounters. These falls, which accounted for 60 percent of all hunting accidents, resulted in severe injuries, often broken bones and sometimes paralysis, quadriplegia, and traumatic brain damage.
The stands were first commercialized in the 1970s, and within 20 years there were more than 100 manufacturers. It wasn’t until 2004 the stands came standard with harnesses, but emergency room doctors are finding many hunters aren’t using them – or aren’t using them correctly. In the case of Bradley v. Ameristep, Inc., however, it was alleged the ratchet straps were used properly by the hunter. The problem was they had degraded significantly from element exposure, rendering them unsafe.
According to court records, the ratchet straps in question were actually replacements for a tree stand he’d bought several years earlier. The plaintiff purchased the replacement straps sometime in 2007 or 2008 but didn’t use them until the fall of 2008. They were exposed to the elements for a month while in use. Then, they were taken down and placed in storage for two years before they were used again.
The plaintiff said when he took the straps out of storage, he visually inspected them and saw no flaws. He set them up with the tree stand in the spring, and again, the straps were exposed for several months before hunting season started in the fall. Before he attempted to use the stand again that season, he looked at the straps and found no issues of concern. However, within minutes of climbing into the stand, he fell to the ground. He sustained serious injuries.
The ratchet straps had broken. Apparently, the exposure to the sunlight had degraded the material, rendering the straps unsafe.
The plaintiff filed a defective product lawsuit against the manufacturer of the straps, alleging strict liability and negligence, and also failure to warn. There was no warning indicating exposure to sunlight could degrade the material, and there were no instructions provided to consumers about how to spot potential degradation of the product that could result in a safety hazard.
The trial court, after excluding the testimony of the plaintiff’s two expert witnesses, granted summary judgment to the defendants.
However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed. First, the testimony of one of those witnesses should not have been excluded, the court ruled, and furthermore, the claim could have succeeded even without expert witness testimony.
Thus, the summary judgment was reversed and the case remanded for trial.
The Ferraro Law Firm handles claims resulting from defective products or dangerous pharmaceuticals. Call (888) 554-2030 for a free and confidential consultation. Offices in Miami and Washington, D.C.
Bradley v. Ameristep, Inc., Aug. 24, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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