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SONIA GOTTFRIED AND LEONARD GOTTFRIED v. AMERICAN CAN COMPANY (03/01/85)

filed: March 1, 1985.

SONIA GOTTFRIED AND LEONARD GOTTFRIED, H/W, APPELLANTS,
v.
AMERICAN CAN COMPANY, APPELLEE



No. 2463 Philadelphia, 1982, Appeal from Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Montgomery County, No. 78-11923.

COUNSEL

Jeffrey S. Kahn, Norristown, for appellants.

Ronald H. Sherr, Norristown, for appellee.

Brosky, Wieand and McEwen, JJ.

Author: Wieand

[ 339 Pa. Super. Page 406]

Sonia Gottfried cut her hand while opening a can of sunflower nuts. In an action against American Can Company,*fn1 the manufacturer of the can, she contended that the can had been defectively manufactured and/or designed.*fn2 A jury found that Mrs. Gottfried's injury had not been caused by a defect in the can but because of her own act of misuse in permitting her hand to come into contact with the sharp edges of the partially opened can. On appeal from the judgment entered on the verdict, Mr. & Mrs. Gottfried, the appellants, contend (1) that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence; (2) that the trial court erred in refusing to allow into evidence a can manufactured four years after the injury for the purpose of showing improvements made in the can by the defendant-manufacturer; (3) that the trial court erred in finding American Can Company's expert witness qualified to give opinion testimony; and (4) that the trial court failed to give the jury adequate and correct instructions. We have examined these issues carefully but find therein no basis for overturning the verdict of the jury. The judgment, therefore, will be affirmed.

The can of nuts had been purchased on November 11, 1977. The can was equipped with a self-opening lid; a tab, when pulled, caused the lid to separate from the remainder of the can. Mrs. Gottfried, who knew that opening the can

[ 339 Pa. Super. Page 407]

    would expose sharp edges of metal, allowed her hand to come into contact with a sharp metal edge of the partially opened can. She wasn't certain whether the contact had been with the lid or the exposed side of the can because she hadn't been looking when she cut her hand. The laceration was one and one-half centimeters in length and occurred between the thumb and forefinger of her left hand. Lester Moskowitz, a professor of engineering at Spring Garden College who was called as an expert witness by plaintiffs, testified that the can was defective because inadequate provision had been made for stress and because the can lacked safety features used by other manufacturers to prevent injury by sharp edges. Similar cans designed by other manufacturers were produced and received into evidence for examination by the jurors.

American Can conceded that the can opened by Mrs. Gottfried had not opened precisely as designed. It contended and the jury found, however, that the failure of the can to open as intended had not been the cause of the injury. The laceration had been caused by Mrs. Gottfried's failure to pay attention to what she was doing and in placing her hand along one of the sharp edges of the partially opened can. Douglass Miller, an employee of American Can who had had experience in the design and manufacture of cans, refuted the testimony of plaintiffs' engineer. He said that all cans opened by separating metal from metal produced sharp edges. He selected one of the cans produced by plaintiffs' expert and sliced a banana with a metallic edge of the opened can in order to demonstrate that it, too, had sharp edges. He testified that the can on which Mrs. Gottfried had cut her hand was not defective and had met all manufacturer's standards. He explained that the safety features recommended by Moskowitz would not have prevented the injury under the circumstances surrounding Mrs. Gottfried's use of the can in this case. Her injury had been caused, he said, by her own misuse of the product in allowing her hand to rub against or come into contact with the sharp edges of metal present on an opened can. Because

[ 339 Pa. Super. Page 408]

    it was a well known fact that metal cans, when opened, had sharp edges, he said, the average consumer, being aware thereof, could be expected to realize the danger of allowing his or her hands to come into contact with the sharp edges of an opened can.

A new trial will be granted on grounds that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence "'only where the verdict is so contrary to the evidence as to shock one's sense of justice . . . . [The plaintiff] is not entitled to a new trial where the evidence is conflicting and the jury could have decided either way.'" Suskey v. Loyal Order of Moose Lodge No. 86, 325 Pa. Super. 94, 102, 472 A.2d 663, 667 (1984), quoting Jacob Kline Cooperage, Inc. v. George W. Kistler, Inc., 286 Pa. Super. 84, 87-88, 428 A.2d 583, 585 (1981) (citations omitted). See: Burrell ...


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