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Brandon v. Yale & Towne Manufacturing Co.

March 10, 1965



Per Curiam.

The plaintiff sustained injuries which rendered him permanently quadriplegic when a load of corrugated paper weighing some 800 pounds toppled off a fork lift truck which he was operating and struck him on the back of his neck.The fork lift truck was not equipped with an overhead canopy guard or load back rest which are safety devices intended to protect the truck's operator against falling cargo. The plaintiff sued the defendant which manufactured and supplied the fork lift truck to his employer, the Industrial Container Corporation, charging that the defendant knew or should have known that the fork lift truck was dangerous for its reasonably expected uses without the safety equipment mentioned. The jury returned a verdict of $250,000 in favor of the plaintiff on its findings that the defendant was negligent and the plaintiff was free of contributory negligence.

The trial judge denied the defendant's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict under Rule 50(b), F.R.Civ.P. on the grounds that (1) "there is sufficient evidence with all the reasonable inferences therefrom, taken most favorably to the plaintiff, to uphold this verdict"*fn1, and (2) failure by the defendant to comply with the provisions of Rule 50(a).

There is no complaint by the defendant-appellant on this appeal of any error in the trial of the case or in the trial court's instructions to the jury. The factual issues to be resolved by the jury were correctly presented to it in precise and sharp focus by the charge of the trial court.

On review of the record we are satisfied that there was evidentiary basis for the jury's verdict*fn2 It would serve no useful purpose to review that evidence here. It is set forth in detail in the trial court's careful review and analysis of the testimony. 220 F. Supp. 855, 856-861.

Our view that the evidence supports the jury's finding that the defendant was negligent and the plaintiff was free of contributory negligence*fn3, and that the defendant's negligence was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries, makes unnecessary consideration of the second ground for the trial court's denial of the defendant's motion for judgment n.o.v.

For the reasons stated the Judgment of the District Court entered May 2, 1963, pursuant to the jury's verdict in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendant, will be affirmed.

McLAUGHLIN, Circuit Judge (dissenting).

A natural sympathy for the plaintiff in his present physical condition would seem to have unwittingly distorted, one, the basic procedural trial circumstances which existed during the critical period and two, the evaluation of the evidence as it stood at the close of all the testimony.

The first issue is whether the defendant should be barred from presenting its meritorious defense on appeal by the device of foreclosing that defense completely on the theory that it had somehow failed in its admitted specific effort to protect that right. Very briefly the facts are that prior to the closing of plaintiff's testimony, at a conference in the judge's chambers, at which no stenographer was present, defense counsel told the judge he considered that plaintiff had failed to make out a jury case and would move for a dismissal. The judge said he would deny the motion. Later, after plaintiff had rested and a defense witness was on the stand, the attorney for the defendant asked the court to have the record show that he had made a motion for dismissal under Rule 50 which had been denied by the court. This was assented to and taken care of by the court. The trial was then recessed until the following morning. That same afternoon the defense attorney delivered to the judge's chambers a memorandum stating four reasons for dismissal of the suit and supporting authority. The next morning at another conference in the judge's chambers, again no stenographer present, the attorney advised the court and plaintiff's counsel that there would be no further defense testimony and gave the court his points for charge which included a request for a directed verdict. As to the latter, the attorney asked the judge if he desired oral argument. The judge said that he did not and that he understood the defense position and would refuse the request for a direction.He denied that request at the conclusion of his charge. None of this is denied by the trial judge or counsel for plaintiff. The court in its supplemental opinion states "It may very well be that counsel for defendant, having at the last moment filed a written memorandum of law covering the entire case and having been informed by the Court, as he states in his affidavit, that his point for binding instructions would be denied, he assumed that the rigid requirements of Rule 50(a) had been met. As stated in our original Opinion and herein, we are powerless to waive the procedural requirements."

In view of all that had gone before, the refusal to allow the defense to argue its 50(a) point as set out in the above quoted last sentence never comes to grips with the real situation before the court. Actually waiver of Rule 50(a) was not involved for compliance with it to the entire satisfaction of the trial judge had been meticulously taken care of by the attorney on behalf of the defendant. The court was in no position to later attempt to reverse its field and deprive the defense of not only its full, fair day in court but to wipe out in toto the defense appeal on the merits.

This brings us to the decisional reason for the majority view which is simply that the majority is "* * * satisfied that there was an evidentiary basis for the jury's verdict." We are not told what that was but are referred to "* * * the trial court's careful review and analysis of the testimony." In his first opinion the district judge says "Simply stated, the defendant argues that it is insulated from liability by the fact that Y. & T. apprised Industrial (plaintiff's employer) of the danger involved in using this particular fork lift truck in the high stacking operation without the overhead canopy and back rest being attached ." (Emphasis supplied) As can be gleaned even from the above, the accident occurred solely because plaintiff employee, with the assent of his employer, misused the truck in the identical fashion expressedly warned against by the defendant manufacturer.

We are not dealing with Workmen's Compensation in this appeal but with a tort action for alleged negligence. Plaintiff's severe injury does not make defendant a second class party to the litigation. It is entitled to rely on the trial record.On that record, the evidence does not justify the district court's submission of the case to a jury decision. This is in strict accord with both the law of the place of the accident, Maryland, and of this circuit. Katz v. Arundel-Brooks Concrete Corporation, 220 Md. 200, 151 A.2d 731, 78 A.L.R.2d 692 (Ct.App.Md. 1959); Smith v. Hobart Mfg. Co., 302 F.2d 570 (3 Cir. 1962); Hopkins v. E. I. Du Pont, 212 F.2d 623 (3 Cir. 1954); Oettinger v. Norton Co., 253 F.2d 712 (3 Cir. 1958).

I would reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the case for entry of judgment ...

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