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VAN SCOY v. POWERMATIC

April 21, 1992

LUKE VAN SCOY Plaintiff
v.
POWERMATIC, A DIVISION OF STANWICH INDUSTRIES, INC. Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD P. CONABOY

 I

 On March 24, 1988, Plaintiff, Luke Van Scoy, while a senior at Pocono Mountain High School in Swiftwater, Pennsylvania, injured the middle and index fingers of his right hand, while using a band saw manufactured by the Defendant. The band saw had been purchased some four years previously by the school district and the Plaintiff was using it in the course of his studies as a student in the industrial arts department.

 Plaintiff thereafter instituted this action seeking damages from the Defendant, claiming the right to recover under the product liability theory, alleging that the product was defective and under a negligence theory, claiming that the Defendant was negligent in the manufacture of the product and in their conduct in placing it on the market for use.

 At the conclusion of the testimony, a normally used type of verdict slip was submitted to the jury. It contained nine questions. In answer to Question #2 "Did the Plaintiff, Luke Van Scoy, prove that the Defendant, Powermatic's, saw was defective", the jury responded "yes". In answer to Question #3 "If your answer to Question #2 was yes, was the defect a substantial factor in bringing about the injuries to the Plaintiff, Luke Van Scoy", the jury responded "no". In answer to Question #4 "Did the Plaintiff, Luke Van Scoy, prove that the Defendant, Powermatic, was negligent in putting the saw in question on the market", the jury answered "no". Having so answered the foregoing questions, and in conformity with instructions of the Court, the jury returned these responses to the Court as their verdict, and a verdict was thereupon entered in favor of the Defendant, Powermatic.

 The Plaintiff has filed a motion seeking a new trial and cites five arguments in support of the motion. The Defendant has responded, contravening each of the arguments. For the reasons which follow, we will deny the motion for new trial.

 II

 The saw in question is a rather large piece of equipment which includes a table on which the material to be inserted into the saw is placed. The actual "saw" is a steel band which moves at a high rate of speed around a driving wheel and passes through an opening in the table with the teeth of the saw facing the operator. The product to be worked on is fed into the teeth of the saw by the operator. The project on which the Plaintiff was working was an effort to take a square block of wood and convert it to a round piece by cutting off the four square corners. The block of wood was approximately five inches in height and approximately four to five inches square. The machine was set so that certain roller guides would be placed slightly above the top of the piece on which the operator was working. The piece on which the operator was working would then be fed into the machine below the roller guide. Of particular interest in this case was a section of the blade above the roller guides described as being between one and a half and one and three quarter inches in length, which was also exposed with the teeth of the blade facing the operator. Significant issues in this case were whether there should have been a guard covering this upper exposed area and whether or not the Plaintiff's injured fingers entered into the upper exposed area or the area below the roller guides where the product was being fed. *fn1" The factual and legal issues surrounding both of these matters were hotly contested and there was conflicting testimony concerning each issue.

 III

 From the testimony and evidence in this case the jury could very easily have found that on the day in question the Plaintiff was attempting to pass a square block through the blade to round off the corners of the block; that the block was approximately five inches in height and four inches square; that the roller guides were approximately one half to one inch above the top of the block; that there was no guard on that part of the blade below the roller guides since the machine would have been useless with such a guard; that there was no guard in that area immediately above the roller blades; that as the Plaintiff moved the block into the blade his left hand was on one side of the block and his right hand was either on the other side or on the top of the block; that as the block was fed into the machine, for some reason, the block tipped slightly, forcing the Plaintiff's right hand into the exposed blade; that the natural forces on the block and the natural resulting movement of the Plaintiff's right hand, would bring it into contact with that portion of the blade below the roller guides and not above the roller guides; that the injuries to the Plaintiff's hand are not consistent with his hand turning as the Plaintiff's expert opined and were consistent with the hand moving directly into the blade as the Defendant's expert opined; that it would have made the machine safer to have a guard on the portion of the blade above the roller guides; but that the lack of such a guard did not contribute to and would not have prevented the accident in this case; and that the Plaintiff did not prove by the fair weight and preponderance of the evidence that the Defendant was negligent in the manufacture, production, or distribution of this product.

 IV

 Reference to the Plaintiff's brief and Plaintiff counsel's argument throughout the trial, of course, immediately reveals the Plaintiff disagrees with these findings and sought to have the jury make other findings. It is not the Court's duty, however, on a motion for new trial, to second-guess or to countervail a jury's reasonable determination, even in the instance where a Court disagrees with the jury's findings. Indeed, unless there is a significant miscarriage of justice, the Court must consider the evidence on such a motion in a light most favorable to the verdict winner.

 The Plaintiff makes the common error of arguing on the basis of facts he wishes the jury would have accepted. And, also on the basis of arguments that are nowhere substantiated in the testimony or evidence. He refers, for instance, on several occasions, to another student being a "eyewitness" to the accident. That student's testimony however, was to the effect that he did see the placement of the Plaintiff's hands on the block immediately before the accident, but that he was not, in fact, an eyewitness to the accident itself. Additionally, where he placed the Plaintiff's hands is of no benefit to the Plaintiff, even if the jury believed his testimony, because they obviously subscribed to the testimony of the Defendant's expert who stated that the Plaintiff's hand had to enter the blade below the area where the argument is made about the missing guard.

 Both parties agree on the standard the Court must follow in considering whether to grant a new trial. A new trial is generally warranted only when the trial judge is satisfied that there has been a miscarriage of justice. Such might occur when a verdict is technically supported by legally sufficient evidence, but is contrary to the great weight of the evidence, making a new trial necessary under general concepts of fairness and justice. See Bhaya v. Westinghouse Electric Corp., 832 F.2d 258 (3d Cir. 1987); Roebuck v. Drexel University, 852 F.2d 715 (3d Cir. 1988); EEOC v. Delaware Dept. of Health and Social Services, 865 F.2d 1408(3d Cir. 1989); Bruno v. W.B Saunders Co. et al., 882 F.2d 760(3d Cir. 1989). One must be ever alert to the fact, however, that in considering such a motion the ...


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