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Home / Verdicts and Settlements / Re: Benda, et al. v. Crates Leather, et al.

Re: Benda, et al. v. Crates Leather, et al.

PERSONAL INJURY: $525,000
Injuries claimed: S1 (sacroiliac) joint disruption on the left; pubic symphysis diastatis; a closed sacral fracture on the left side, urethral tears; a rectroperitoneal hematoma; and left 4, 5, 6, 7 rib fractures. The urethral tear eventually led to permanent erectile dysfunction
Case name: Re: Benda, et al. v. Crates Leather, et al.
Case number: 08-CV-010-297
Verdict & settlement: Settlement in favor of plaintiff
Settlement amount: $525,000
Special damages: $310,000
Plaintiffs attorney (firm): Victor C. Harding, Warshafsky, Rotter, Tarnoff & Block SC
Defendants attorney (firm): Crates was represented by Michael Murray of Kasdorf Lewis & Swietlik; West 20 by Quentin Shafer of Drawe, Shafer & Stewart; TriTech by Scott Ritter and John Griner of Griner & Associates; and Shirley Bethune by Eric Darling of Schmidt, Darling & Erwin.
Plaintiffs expert witnesses: Jack Johnson, Ph.D., P.E., Engineering, Forensics & Testing, Ltd., Verona
Defendants expert witnesses: Paul Gramann, Ph.D., a plastic consulting engineer, The Madison Group, Madison; Dr. Carl Loper, C. R. L. Corporation, Ltd., Madison
Plaintiff counsel’s summary of the facts: On April 1, 2006, Ron Benda purchased a new high-end saddle for use riding horses for pleasure at his farm in Sullivan, Indiana. Approximately 18 months later, he went horseback riding with his daughter and friend at the Crawford County Forest Preserve, just over the border in Illinois. While galloping to catch up with his daughter, suddenly and without warning, the right stirrup failed with his foot going straight through the bottom, sending him to the ground. After several hours, he was conveyed by Flight for Life to the hospital in Illinois. His injuries included S1 (sacroiliac) joint disruption on the left; pubic symphysis diastatis; a closed sacral fracture on the left side, urethral tears; a rectroperitoneal hematoma; and left 4, 5, 6, 7 rib fractures. The urethral tear eventually led to permanent erectile dysfunction.
The saddle Benda purchased on April 1, 2006 was from West 20 of Mukwonago which was selling saddlery at the Indianapolis County Fair. West 20 had purchased the saddle new from Crates Leather Company of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Crates purchased the stirrup from Shirley Bethune of Rainesville, Alabama who was in the business of sewing leather covers around plastic form stirrups. Bethune purchased the plastic form from Tri-Tech Molded Products, Inc. of McMinnville, Tennessee.
During the process for sewing the leather around the plastic form, Bethune would drive two or more staples through the leather into the plastic form to hold it in place. Once the leather was sewn on, the staples served no functional purpose and were eventually covered with leather. Ms. Bethune has done this for over 20 years.
Tri-Tech is in the business of plastic injection molding, It purchased the stirrup form molds many years before. The mold created a stirrup form of I beam construction. The flat portion of the stirrup where one places their foot, is the top of the I. Then there is a vertical I piece and then the bottom flat portion of the stirrup as the bottom of the I. During the placement of the leather, Bethune drove several staples through the bottom flat portion directly into the I of the I beam construction. Over time, cracks developed, commencing where the staple was placed and splaying into the flat top and bottom sections, which led eventually to the ultimate failure.
In July 2008 Ron Benda commenced an action against Crates, Bethune, Tri-Tech and West 20, sounding generally in negligence and strict liability/defective product, along with their insurers. Bethune carried no insurance. The defendants generally denied all allegations.
Benda retained the services of Jack Johnson, Ph.D., P.E., Engineering, Forensics & Testing, Ltd., 9226 Windy Point, Verona, WI 53593. Dr. Johnson is currently a emeritus professor of civil engineering at UW-Madison. Dr. Johnson, after examining and studying the stirrup, concluded that it was defective and unreasonably dangerous after staples had been driven into the I beam construction, compromising the form’s structural integrity.
Towards the end of discovery, Tri-Tech took the position that Bethune abused its product when she drove the staple into the form during her sewing process. Tri-Tech asserted it was unaware that Bethune and/or other stirrup makers were driving nails/staples into its forms and especially driving staples into the eye of the I beam construction.
Crates retained the services of Paul Gramann, Ph.D., a plastic consulting engineer, The Madison Group, Madison. Essentially, Mr. Gramann concluded after extensive testing that Tri-Tech allowed moisture to creep into the storage of its plastic for form molding. This moisture during the molding process created an overly brittle stirrup form. It was further his opinion that had the usual Tyvek plastic not been compromised by moisture, even driving the staples into the eye of the I beam construction would not have caused the form to crack and eventually break.
Tri-Tech retained the services of Dr. Carl Loper, C.R.L. Corporation, Ltd., Madison. Dr. Loper generally opined that the staple created the fracture and that had the staple not been driven into the I of the I beam, the stirrup probably would never have failed.
Ron Benda’s special damages included medical bills of approximately $98,000 Additionally, and at the time of the incident, Benda was a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Reserves, as well as a middle school teacher. Although he lost virtually no time from work as he appeared for duty in the Reserves immediately following the incident, a claim for loss of earning capacity in the future was made. It was asserted that Benda aspired to becoming a full bird colonel in the Reserves before retiring. This advancement was lost to him as a result of his residual injuries. In addition, it was asserted he would need to retire early from teaching as a result of his injuries. The claimed loss of future earning capacity, therefore, approximated $212,000. Accordingly, total specials were claimed at $310,000.
Shortly before mediation, the parties settled the case for a total value of $525,000. TriTech’s insurer contributed $415,000; Crates’ insurer $100,000; and West 20’s insurer $10,000.

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