If the jurors chose to believe these witnesses, then they may well have concluded that pilot error caused the accident. They may have determined that Mr. Stevens, despite his training, reacted to his emergency in a way that could not have been foreseen -- and thus not guarded against -- by Cessna. They may have decided that through inattention or carelessness or panic, Mr. Stevens bypassed a safe landing and engaged in needlessly risky maneuvers. Cessna surely introduced sufficient evidence to support such findings, and it is not for me to second guess the jury's decision in light of the substantial evidence on which it could be based.
B. Admission of Evidence
Mrs. Stevens objects to much of Dr. Berry's testimony and to references to Mr. Stevens' drinking on the night before his flight. She claims that any mention of alcohol was unduly prejudicial, and that the hearsay rule was violated through Dr. Berry's recounting of statements made to him during his investigation. I find that testimony on both points was properly admitted in the context of the situation.
1. Alcohol Consumption
As mentioned earlier, evidence of alcohol consumption was introduced for two purposes only: to show the stress on Mr. Stevens; and to support Cessna's suggestion that Mr. Stevens' perceptions may have been especially dull at the time of the accident. I issued a limiting instruction to the jury concerning the references to Mr. Stevens' drinking. Furthermore, I cautioned defense counsel to be careful not to dwell on the drinking issue and not to imply that Mr. Stevens may have been inebriated on the night of the crash. Counsel scrupulously followed this instruction, refraining from over-emphasizing the issue.
Furthermore, plaintiff's counsel, had sufficient opportunity to rebut the suggestion that alcohol may have affected Mr. Stevens' perception. He was able to bring before the jury the autopsy report finding of .0% alcohol in Mr. Stevens' blood. He also fully cross-examined Dr. Berry on the drinking question, eliciting from him the admission that he could not be certain that Mr. Stevens' sense of perception was at all altered by the drinking episode some 24 hours earlier.
Nonetheless, Dr. Berry did use the drinking episode as a factor in arriving at his medical opinion that pilot error caused the accident. Dr. Berry said that alcohol consumption was significant not simply because it may have residual effects on perception, but because it signified the pressure in Mr. Stevens' personal life. The doctor further testified that he -- and others in his field -- routinely relied on outward signs of stress (such as drinking) to evaluate whether pilots were fit to fly. Because this evidence is of the type normally relied upon by experts such as Dr. Berry, I find it admissible and not unduly prejudicial because of the accompanying limiting instruction. See Fed. R. Evid. 703.
2. Hearsay Statements
Dr. Berry, an expert with many years of experience in aeronautical medicine, undertook an investigation of Mr. Stevens' background. As part of this investigation, he interviewed many of Mr. Stevens' associates, such as his friends, coworkers, and professors. In his presentation to the jury, Dr. Berry explained that he believed that Mr. Stevens was under a great deal of stress -- stress that might well have hampered his performance as a pilot. In fact, Dr. Berry concluded that Mr. Stevens was so preoccupied with personal problems -- such as his relationship with Ms. Graham, financial troubles, and difficulties at school -- that he was not in top shape to fly an airplane.
During his testimony, Dr. Berry made reference to what he had learned from those whom he had interviewed. Mrs. Stevens correctly points out that such testimony would normally be excludable hearsay. In this case, however, I allowed the testimony to proceed on the grounds that such statements were routinely relied upon by experts such as Dr. Berry. Rule 703 authorizes the introduction of otherwise inadmissible evidence if it is "of a type reasonably relied upon by experts in the particular field in forming opinions or inferences upon the subject." Based on his many years of experience, Dr. Berry said that interviews such as those he conducted would normally be relied upon by those evaluating the fitness of pilots. Furthermore, Dr. Berry substantiated his recounting of the out-of-court statements through his tape recordings of the interviews.
Once more, I find that this evidence was properly admitted in accordance with Rule 703.
C. Charge to the Jury
Mrs. Stevens complains that my charge misstated Pennsylvania law concerning misuse as a defense in a strict liability action. She acknowledges, however, that misuse is an issue in the case, for she herself submitted points for charge on this topic. Also, as already discussed, Cessna produced a great deal of evidence which suggested that unforeseeable pilot error caused the crash. There is thus no dispute that a charge on the subject of misuse was called for. The only issue is the proper wording of this charge.
Pennsylvania law is clear that "a finding of defect may be precluded when the plaintiff is injured when using the product in an 'abnormal' manner." Burch v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., 320 Pa. Super. 444, 452, 467 A.2d 615, 619 (1983). "An allegedly abnormal use will negate liability, however, only if it was not reasonably foreseeable by the seller." Id. The jury should, therefore, be told that a product must be safe for both its intended use and any other reasonably foreseeable use. Furthermore, the jury should know that misuse is a defense to liability. My charge correctly included both of these elements. I declined to charge, as suggested by Mrs. Stevens, that Cessna could be excused from liability only if Mr. Stevens' actions were "completely unforeseeable." I rejected this language because it does not comport with Pennsylvania law, and I properly charged that the standard to be applied was reasonably foreseeable use.
D. Jury Error
Mrs. Stevens claims that a new trial is warranted because of juror confusion about the legal significance of their answers to the interrogatories. But Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) expressly prohibits a juror from testifying "as to any matter or statement occurring during the course of the jury's deliberations or to the effect of anything upon his or any other juror's mind or emotions as influencing him to assent to or dissent from the verdict or indictment or concerning his mental processes in connection therewith." Mrs. Stevens has cited no case in which a new trial has been granted on the basis of juror testimony about confusion in the jury room. In fact, courts have expressly refused to grant such requests, and have instead regarded jury deliberations as private matters beyond the scope of review. See, e.g., United States v. Chereton, 309 F.2d 197 (6th Cir. 1962) (affidavit of four jurors concerning confusion insufficient to impeach verdict). And in a situation quite similar to our own, another court in this district refused to set aside a verdict despite a juror's affidavit of confusion concerning interrogatories: "A juror cannot impeach his verdict by testifying that he was mistaken as to what verdict would be entered on the basis of his answers to interrogatories." McNulty v. Borden, Inc., 542 F. Supp. 655, 658 (E.D. Pa. 1982). In light of these decisions and of the clear language of Rule 606(b), I find no merit to plaintiff's claim.
After careful review of the record and of the submissions by counsel, I find that the verdict was supported by sufficient evidence and that no prejudicial error occurred during the course of or after the trial.
Upon consideration of plaintiff Stevens' motion for a new trial and of defendant Cessna's response, and for the reasons set forth in the accompanying memorandum, IT IS ORDERED that the motion is DENIED.