Trial of Big Dog Treestand begins in St. Clair County

Potential jurors were asked if they could be fair and impartial in a Belleville man’s lawsuit against the maker and seller of a hunting tree stand Monday in St. Clair County.

Michael Burns and his wife, Diane, filed a lawsuit March 24, 2011, against Big Dog Treestand and Swansea Rural King Inc.

Associate Judge Vincent Lopinot inquired where jurors live, their occupation, their spouse’s job and the occupation of any adult children during voir dire in his courtroom.
He also asked if anyone was involved in an accident, which could cause potential jurors to form an opinion that would taint their judgment in the case.
“Justice is equally served if you find for the plaintiff or find for the defense, provided you decide the case based on the law and the evidence,” Lopinot said.

Juror number 339 said 25 years ago, he had a ladder slide out from underneath him, but no lawsuit was filed.

Lopinot wanted to know if that would stop him from being a fair and impartial juror.

A female juror admitted she favors companies who are being sued.

“I just have to be honest about that,” she said.

Lopinot also asked if anyone assembled worked in law enforcement or the law or if a family member did.

Juror number 15 said his wife is a police officer for the City of St. Louis.

“Is there anything about that that would stop you from being fair and impartial?” Lopinot said.

He answered that he’s strict, but fair.

According to the complaint at issue in the upcoming trial, Diane Burns bought a ladder stand from a Rural King store in Swansea in October 2010. Michael Burns says he was hunting later that month with the Big Dog-built stand supported by a ratchet strap assembly.

While he was in the ladder, Michael says, the ratchet strap assembly failed, causing the strap to detach and allow him to fall to the ground.

The Burnses accuse Big Dog Treestand and Rural King of negligence for making and selling a defective ladder stand. They are asking for more than $50,000 in damages for medical expenses, loss of income and loss of consortium.

Big Dog Tree Stands denies it caused any injuries, denies negligence or that the product was defectively designed or manufactured. The company also denies the product contained insufficient warnings.

It further denied a defect existed, but stated that Burns knew about the condition, assumed risks, and continued to use the product after his discovery and knowledge that possible harm might result.

At the time of the incident, the tree stand was not in the condition it was in when it left the defendant’s control. The tree stand was changed, altered and modified by others, according to the defense.

Big Dog Tree Stands contends Burns contributed to his injuries by his own negligence.

Michael J. Garavalia represents the plaintiff.

Brian Plegge and Justin Hardin represent Big Dog Treestands.

St. Clair County case number 11-L-150.

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