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Jury faults elevator gate for man’s head injuries, awards $1.75M

Scott Lauck//January 2, 2020//

Jury faults elevator gate for man’s head injuries, awards $1.75M

Scott Lauck//January 2, 2020//

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A St. Louis jury won $1.75 million verdict against the manufacturer of a freight elevator gate whose allegedly faulty design led to a man’s head injuries.

The jury held the plaintiff, Donald Johndrow, 15 percent liable for his own injuries. Kevin Carnie of The Simon Law Firm, an attorney for Johndrow, said Johndrow was struck in the head by the freight elevator’s gate in November 2007.

Johndrow filed a lawsuit in 2012. At trial, he made a strict product liability claim against EMS, alleging that the gate, which closes top to bottom, lacked a “light curtain” that would have prevented it from coming into contact with his head in a manner similar to that of a garage door that is equipped to stop and retract automatically when an object is in the way.

The defendant argued that the system was not unreasonably dangerous and that the lack of a light curtain was due to the customer’s specifications, as opposed to the defendant’s design choice.

Johndrow was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a concussion. He returned to work, but two years later he claimed he suffered cognitive and psychiatric issues such as depression as a result of the concussion.

“That was the hard part of the case, tying these psychiatric issues, post-concussion issues to that original event,” Carnie said.

The defense’s neuropsychologist testified that the plaintiff deliberately made a poor effort during a battery of psychological testing. Carnie also noted that his client had an extensive family history of psychiatric issues, including family members who had committed suicide.

Carnie credited the experts for the plaintiff for the win, as well as testimony from Johndrow’s sister and neighbor about the changes in his personality following his head injury.

“I think that had some sway with the jury,” he said.

James Craney, an attorney for the defendant, couldn’t be reached for comment.

The net judgment of nearly $1.49 million against EMS Group will be offset by a prior out-of-court settlement with another defendant, according to court records.

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Product liability

Allocation of Fault: 85 percent to defendant EMS Group Inc., 15 percent to plaintiff. Net judgment of $1,487,500

Venue: St. Louis Circuit Court

Case Number/Date: 1222-CC10470/Dec. 13, 2019

Judge: Michael Mullen

Plaintiff’s Experts: Joseph Stabler (elevator consultant); Eric Hart (neuropsychologist); Anthony Margherita (physiatrist)

Defendant’s Experts: John Donnelly (elevator consultant); Robert Fucetola (neuropsychologist); June Blaine (vocational rehabilitation)

Last Pretrial Demand: $1.5 million (global demand)

Caption: Donald Johndrow v. EMS Group Inc.

Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Kevin M. Carnie Jr. and Patrick R. McPhail, The Simon Law Firm, St. Louis

Defendant’s Attorneys: James L. Craney and Nicole Winters, Craney Law Group, Edwardsville, Illinois

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