December 22nd, 2023

PA Supreme Court Affirms Sullivan v. Werner

PA Supreme Court Affirms Sullivan v. Werner

Court addresses Restatement (Second) of Torts §402A

PHILADELPHIA (Dec. 22, 2023) – Today, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania announced that “it affirms the Superior Court’s decision that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting Sullivan’s motion in limine to preclude the admission of any industry or government standards at trial.” Justice Mundy wrote the majority opinion. Justices Dougherty and Wecht join the Opinion Announcing the Judgment of the Court. Justice Donohue files a concurring opinion. Chief Justice Todd files a dissenting opinion in which Justice Brobson joins.

The 2019 two-week trial of Sullivan v. Werner Company and Lowe’s Companies, Inc. ended in a unanimous $2.5 million jury verdict in favor of Michael Sullivan on Friday, May 10, finding Werner’s SRS 72 scaffold defective in design and having defective warnings. Jeffrey F. Laffey and Stewart Ryan of Laffey Bucci D’Andrea Reich & Ryan, LLP represented the Plaintiffs. The Honorable Michael E. Erdos presided in the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Laffey, Ryan and Howard Bashman, represented the plaintiff on appeal.

“This is momentous,” said Laffey.

According to today’s opinion, the Supreme Court “granted allowance of appeal to consider whether evidence of a product’s compliance with industry and governmental safety standards is admissible in products liability cases following this Court’s decision in Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., 104 A.3d 328 (Pa. 2014). Because we conclude compliance evidence remains inadmissible, we affirm the order of the Superior Court.”

Laffey said, “This case underscores the importance of keeping the focus on the product in question. The manufacturer cannot hide behind standards which are minimal at best and highly influenced by the industry. The manufacturer has a duty to design a product that eliminates foreseeable hazards — not to create them.”

On June 26, 2015, 41-year-old Michael Sullivan was working as a union carpenter at a substantial renovation of an elementary school (Albert Schweitzer Elementary School) in Levittown, Pa. He was installing sheathing on the exterior wall of the school when suddenly and without warning, the platform of the Werner scaffold upon which Sullivan was standing collapsed. Sullivan fell through the scaffold and as a result sustained a sacral fracture. He was subsequently diagnosed with protrusions of his spine at L4/5 and L5/S1. Since the accident, Sullivan has experienced constant lower back pain that often radiates down his right leg and as a result, requires dangerous and possibly debilitating decompression with fusion surgery. Sullivan is unable to return to work.

Discovery and trial testimony revealed that Werner introduced this scaffold in the market in 2010. The scaffold is referred to as a Baker Scaffold. The platform of the scaffold is protected from dislodgment by deck pins that Werner admitted, can rotate to the-point where they no longer serve its purpose in securing the platform. Werner further admitted that the platform can become dislodged after a deck pin is disengaged by foreseeable use, including climbing off and on the scaffold or rolling the scaffold over rough terrain, divots, chords, etc., and other normal conditions on a construction site. Plaintiffs’ attorneys Laffey and Ryan demonstrated that there were alternative designs to secure the platform while in use. Michael Dunn of the Law Offices of Michael J. Dunn represented Werner and Lowes. Lowes sold the subject scaffold to Sullivan’s employer shortly before the accident.


Sullivan v. Werner Co – OAJC – 122223

Sullivan v. Werner Co – Concurring Op – 122223

Sullivan v. Werner Co – Dissenting Op – 122223