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MARKOVICH v. BELL HELICOPTER TEXTRON

April 6, 1992

SARA JEAN MARKOVICH, et. al.
v.
BELL HELICOPTER TEXTRON, INC. AND TEXTRON, INC.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BY THE COURT; EDWARD N. CAHN

 CAHN, J.

 April 6, 1992

 On June 17, 1988, Anthony Markovich and Mark Tarmann were flying a Bell Model 206L helicopter (as the pilot and co-pilot respectively) over Springfield Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The helicopter crashed, killing them both. The helicopter was owned by William H. Thayer, and had been leased to Fleet Helicopter Services ["Fleet"], *fn1" a corporation controlled by Mr. Thayer. It had been manufactured by the defendants, Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc. and Textron Inc., eight years previously.

 This suit was brought by the families of the decedents, in their personal and representative capacities against the helicopter's manufacturers. Although the primary thrust of plaintiffs' case was that the helicopter was defective within the meaning of Section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, *fn2" they also argued that the helicopter was negligently manufactured, and that the defendants negligently supervised Fleet's maintenance program.

 This case was tried to a jury from November 25, 1991 until December 6, 1991. By its answers to interrogatories, the jury found that the bolt in question was not defective due to hydrogen embrittlement. Because the jury answered no to question number one, it never reached the remaining questions (dealing with whether the bolt, if found to be defective, was a substantial factor in causing the crash, and with damages). The plaintiffs' post-trial Motion for Judgment As a Matter of Law, or, in the Alternative, for a New Trial, is now before the court. The court heard oral argument on this Motion on January 27, 1992.

 Although the plaintiffs' Memorandum in support of their post-trial Motion enumerates twenty perceived shortcomings of the trial, the plaintiff's grounds for requesting post-trial relief are essentially fourfold: (1) that the court erred in dismissing the plaintiff's negligence claims; (2) that the court erred in allowing the defendants to introduce evidence of industry standards; (3) that the court erred in embracing the testimony of the defendants' expert witnesses during its charge; and (4) that the defendants engaged in fraud in the discovery process. These claims will be addressed seriatim.

 I. Standards for Post-Trial Motions

 The plaintiffs have moved both for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) *fn3" and for a new trial pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a).

 A court cannot enter judgment as a matter of law unless the party seeking the judgment made a Rule 50(a) Motion at the close of all the evidence at trial. See Keith v. Truck Stops Corp. of America, 909 F.2d 743, 744 (3d Cir. 1990); Mallick v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 644 F.2d 228, 233 (3d Cir. 1981); Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b).

 The specific grounds for [judgment as a matter of law] must be asserted in the motion for a directed verdict. If the issue was not raised in the motion for the directed verdict at the close of all the evidence, it is improper to grant the [motion] on that issue. The requirement that the specific issue be raised first in the motion for a directed verdict, before the issue is submitted to the jury, affords the non-moving party an opportunity to reopen its case and present additional evidence. Further, when a trial court decides an issue after it was properly submitted to the jury, it may deprive the non-moving party of [its] seventh amendment rights.

 Bonjorno v. Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp., 752 F.2d 802, 814 (3d Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 477 U.S. 908, 91 L. Ed. 2d 572, 106 S. Ct. 3284 (1986) (emphasis supplied) (citations omitted). Since the plaintiffs made such a Motion at the close of all the evidence, see N.T. Dec. 6 at 5, *fn4" the court will consider the merits of their Motion.

 In deciding whether a Rule 50(b) motion should be granted, "[a] court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and determine whether 'the record contains the "minimum quantum of evidence from which a jury might reasonably afford relief."'" Keith, 909 F.2d at 745 (citation omitted). See also Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1478 (3d Cir. 1990); Bhaya v. Westinghouse Electric Corp., 832 F.2d 258, 259 (3d Cir. 1987), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 1004, 102 L. Ed. 2d 774, 109 S. Ct. 782 (1989); Grace v. Mauser-Werke GMBH, 700 F. Supp. 1383, 1387 (E.D. Pa. 1988). It is for this reason that "normally, when the evidence is contradictory, [judgment as a matter of law] is inappropriate." Bonjorno, 752 F.2d at 811 (citation omitted). The jury must weigh the evidence, if the evidence is in dispute, because "evaluation of witness credibility is the exclusive function of the jury." Bhaya, 832 F.2d at 262. See also Bonjorno, 752 F.2d at 811; Grace, 700 F. Supp. at 1387.

 The conditions which must be met to justify the grant of a new trial are not as stringent as those required for the entry of judgment as a matter of law. "In general, the ordering of a new trial is committed to the sound discretion of the district court." Bonjorno, 752 F.2d at 812. See also Williamson v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 926 F.2d 1344, 1348 (3d Cir. 1991); Honeywell v. American Standards Testing Bureau, Inc., 851 F.2d 652, 655 (3d Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 1010, 102 L. Ed. 2d 787, 109 S. Ct. 795 (1989); Feingold v. Raymark Industries, Inc., 1988 Westlaw 76114 at *3 (E.D. Pa. July 19, 1988); Grace, 700 F. Supp. at 1387. A new trial cannot be granted, however, merely because the court would have weighed the evidence differently and reached a different conclusion. See Feingold, 1988 Westlaw 76144 at *3; Grace, 700 F. Supp. at 1387. A court can only exercise its discretion to grant a new trial because the verdict was against the weight of the evidence when the failure to do so would result in injustice, or would shock the conscience of the court. See Williamson, 926 F.2d at 1352-53; Feingold, 1988 Westlaw 76114 at *3; Grace, 700 F. Supp. at 1388.

 Since the standard for granting a new trial is "lower" than that for entering judgment as a matter of law, it is clear that if a new trial is not warranted, the entry of judgment as a matter of law would be improper. For this reason, the court will analyze the plaintiffs' arguments under the new trial standard. Since the court finds that a new ...


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