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MAGEE v. GMC

December 15, 1953

MAGEE
v.
GENERAL MOTORS CORP



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GOURLEY

This proceeding arises out of an automobile accident which allegedly was the result of a defective steering apparatus. A jury trial was held, over which my late associate, The Honorable Owen M. Burns, presided, which resulted in a verdict in favor of plaintiff in the amount of $ 50,000.

On the basis of Rule 63 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A., I am satisfied that the record speaks with sufficient clarity and completeness for me to dispose of the matters which remain for adjudication, and that no need exists to hear the case de novo.

 The instant motion is for a new trial and/or judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

 As a general rule a manufacturer is under a duty to make an article carefully where its nature is such that it is reasonably certain to place life and limb in peril when negligently made, and he is liable to a third person for an injury resulting from a failure to perform this duty.

 The duty of the maker or vendor of an article harmless in kind, but dangerous through defect, has been said to be in general a negative duty, that is, not knowingly so to dispose of the article that it may become a trap to the innocent; and it has also been said that the manufacturer of such an article is under no general or public duty to exercise care in its manufacture for the safety of persons with whom he has no privity of contract. As a general rule, however, the manufacturer is under a duty to make the article carefully where its nature is such that it is reasonably certain to place life and limb in peril when negligently made, if put to the use for which it is designed and intended or to a use which can reasonably be anticipated, and there is knowledge that the article will be used, without new tests, by persons other than the purchaser; and he is liable for an injury to a third person resulting from a failure to perform this duty, if such injuries could reasonably be anticipated, although there is no contract or privity between the parties. The fact that the article is not inherently dangerous if properly made is immaterial. Walker v. General Motors Corp., D.C.La., 115 F.Supp. 267; Pierce v. Ford Motor Co., 4 Cir., 190 F.2d 910; MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co., 217 N.Y. 382, 111 N.E. 1050; Foley, Ex'x, v. Pittsburgh-Des Moines Co., 363 Pa. 1, 68 A.2d 517; 65 C.J.S., Negligence, § 100, page 629.

 In motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict the problem resolves itself into whether under all the evidence the reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, considered in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, does a right to recover exist' Marsh v. Illinois Cent. R. Co., 5 Cir., 175 F.2d 498.

 Upon invoking this rule of law and upon making a most thorough and meticulous review of the record, it is apparent to me that reasonable minds might differ as to the actual cause of the accident, so that a jury question was poignantly raised.

 The jury having found the issues in favor of the plaintiff, the court must take that view of the evidence most favorable to him and the court must assume that the jury found in his favor all facts which the evidence reasonably tended to prove. Meyonberg v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 3 Cir., 165 F.2d 50; Williams v. Reading Co., 3 Cir., 175 F.2d 32.

 Courts are not free to reweigh the evidence and set aside the jury verdict because the jury could have drawn different inferences or conclusions, or because judges feel that other results are more reasonable. Masterson v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 3 Cir., 182 F.2d 793.

 It is my judgment that as a matter of law, under all the evidence, a basis exists for which the law affords relief to the plaintiff.

 Defendant raises a crucial issue in its contention that the verdict of the jury is excessive.

 The verdict of the jury should be set aside as excessive only if so grossly excessive as to shock the conscience of the court, or if it clearly manifests that the verdict was a result of mistake, caprice, prejudice, or other improper motive, and not merely because the judge, had he tried the case without a jury, would have awarded less damages. Foresman v. Pepin, D.C.Pa., 71 F.Supp. 772, affirmed 3 Cir., 161 F.2d 872.

 In Armit v. Loveland, 3 Cir., 115 F.2d 308, 314, Judge Jones, now Mr. Justice Jones of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, said: 'Courts in general are reluctant to disturb a jury's verdict on the ground of excessiveness where the damages are unliquidated and there is no fixed measure of mathematical certainty.' See also Jones v. Atlantic Refining Co., D.C.Pa., 55 F.Supp. 17. But it is also said if excessive verdicts were permitted to stand, the right of trial by jury would be seriously jeopardized, and the power of a trial judge, or as here, one occupying his position, to reduce the verdicts or set them aside is not in derogation of the right of trial by jury, but is one of the historic safeguards of that right. Cf. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. v. Yeatts, 4 Cir., 122 F.2d 350, 352; Smith v. Times Pub. Co., 178 Pa. 481, 36 A. 296, 35 L.R.A. 819.

 In view of the failure of plaintiff to allege or prove impairment of earning power, damages are limited to expenses, pain, suffering, inconvenience, past, present and future, and property damage ...


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