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Kelly v. Crown Equipment Co.

argued: May 20, 1992.

JOSEPH KELLY AND CYNTHIA KELLY, APPELLANTS
v.
CROWN EQUIPMENT COMPANY, APPELLEE



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (Civil No. 91-01143)

Before Hutchinson, Cowen and Seitz, Circuit Judges

Author: Seitz

Opinion OF THE COURT

SEITZ, Circuit Judge

Joseph Kelly and his wife Cynthia Kelly ("plaintiffs") appeal the order of the district court denying their motion for a new trial in a products liability action under Pennsylvania law against Crown Equipment Company ("defendant"). Defendant removed the case to federal court as authorized by 28 U.S.C. § 1441, invoking the court's diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. This court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Joseph Kelly was injured in the course of his employment when he dismounted from a stock picker forklift. The forklift was constructed so that the operator could stand on a platform which could be lowered closer to the ground for a safe exit. Rather than lowering the platform and stepping off, however, Kelly jumped off the equipment from a height of one and one/half or two feet above the ground. The O-ring on his safety belt caught on a ring attached to a pole at the rear of the platform. He was jerked back onto the platform and injured his back.

Plaintiffs sued defendant, the manufacturer of the forklift, under a strict liability theory. They alleged that the forklift was defectively designed within the provisions of Section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (1965). A jury returned a verdict for the defendant finding, in answer to a special interrogatory, that the forklift was not defective. Accordingly, the district court entered judgment for the defendant. Subsequently, the court denied plaintiffs' motion for a new trial.

II. DISCUSSION

On appeal, plaintiffs allege that the district court erred in denying their motion for a new trial. This court reviews the district court's ruling for abuse of discretion. Honeywell v. American Standards Testing Bureau, 851 F.2d 652, 655 (3d Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 1010, 102 L. Ed. 2d 787, 109 S. Ct. 795 (1989). To the extent the denial was based upon a legal precept, our review is plenary. Id.

A. Application of Federal Evidentiary Rule 407

Plaintiffs sought to introduce evidence at trial that the defendant altered the design of its forklifts after the manufacture of the forklift here involved, but before the accident. Their proffer showed that defendant removed the ring on the pole and added a mechanism that lowered the pole into the platform when the operator entered or exited the platform. The district court excluded this post-manufacture, pre-accident evidence under Rules 407 and 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Thus, this appeal.

Federal Rule of Evidence 407 provides:

When, after an event, measures are taken which, if taken previously, would have made the event less likely to occur, evidence of the subsequent measures is not admissible to prove negligence or culpable conduct in connection with the event. This rule does not require the exclusion of evidence of subsequent measures when offered for another purpose, such as proving ...


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