Joanne Diehl vs. Icon Health & Fitness, Inc


    Stephen Smith obtained a defense verdict on behalf ICON Health & Fitness, Inc., in a product liability and breach of implied warranty action stemming from a fall on a treadmill.

    On August 28, 2008, plaintiff Joanne Diehl, a 60-year-old professor at the University of California, Davis, fell in her home while walking on a treadmill designed and manufactured by defendant ICON. Plaintiff claimed that the treadmill suddenly increased in speed and that her fall was the result of this unexpected acceleration. Plaintiff claimed that the acceleration was due to a defect in the design of the treadmill. Plaintiff sustained a comminuted left humeral head fracture requiring a left shoulder hemiarthroplasty with a biceps tenodesis procedure (partial joint replacement). Plaintiff has a permanent limitation of her left arm range of motion. At trial, Ms. Diehl requested $890,000 in damages.

    Plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging product liability, negligence and breach of implied warranty claims against ICON. Plaintiff could find no evidence of a failure in the treadmill, but claimed that the treadmill was susceptible to intermittent failure due to some type of defect in the treadmill's software. However, plaintiff's attempt to compel disclosure of ICON's proprietary software was denied by the court, which found such software to be a trade secret and that plaintiff had not made an adequate showing to warrant disclosure of that trade secret.

    In defense, Mr. Smith and Mr. Capps contested liability contending that the acceleration did not happen based upon the absence of either any physical evidence of damage to the treadmill and its components or any scientifically sound explanation for the event. They also contended that plaintiff's injuries were inconsistent with a fall from the treadmill accelerating. Specifically, an analysis of plaintiff's injuries demonstrated that, if the treadmill had accelerated, plaintiff would have sustained a shoulder separation or dislocation, rather than the claimed shoulder fracture and that plaintiff would have sustained friction burn injuries from contact with the treadmill's belt.

    Rather than a defect in the treadmill, Mr. Smith and Mr. Capps contended that plaintiff's fall was caused by a balance problem due to side effects from her prescribed medication. Plaintiff was diagnosed after the accident by her treating physicians as suffering from drug-induced Parkinsonism. The medical experts agreed that plaintiff suffered from drug-induced Parkinsonism, with plaintiff contending that the symptoms were minor and defendant contending that the symptoms were severe and caused the fall.

    Prior to trial Mr. Smith and Mr. Capps were successful on a number of motions in limine, including the limitation of testimony of one of Ms. Diehl's proposed liability experts and, as a result, plaintiff ultimately did not call that expert to testify at trial. In the face of a similar motion concerning plaintiff's other liability expert, plaintiff withdrew that expert as well.

    The case was tried in Alameda County in Oakland before the Honorable Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers. The trial lasted for two weeks. During the pendency of the trial, plaintiff dismissed her negligence cause of action.

    After approximately an hour of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict in favor of ICON on the remaining causes of action for product liability and breach of implied warranty.

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