in a two-and-one-half to three inch gap between the end of the metal bar and the end, width-wise, of the plank. It was in this gap that Farra hung the nail gun by placing the trigger on top of the metal bar. The weight of the gun pushing down on its trigger resulted in the trigger being depressed when hung in this fashion. Farra testified that while he hung the nail gun this way "hundreds of times," he never realized that the gun's trigger became depressed through this method of hanging. See Tr. of 12/1/92 at 45-64.
The incident sub judice occurred after Farra, while standing on a plank and having hung the nail gun in his habitual manner with the gun's trigger depressed as it rested on a higher roof jack, reached down to pick up a bundle of shingles in order to place them on the next highest plank. Farra bent from the waist to pick up the bundle, and, as he stood up, his elbow hit the trip mechanism with enough force to depress it. Since the gun's trigger was also depressed (by virtue of the manner in which the nail gun was hung), and since the air hose was connected, depression of the trip mechanism caused the nail gun to fire a nail into Farra's elbow.
Farra contended at trial that there were four separate defects in the nail gun. First, Farra claimed the nail gun was defective because it was equipped with a contact trip, as opposed to a "sequential trip" firing mechanism. A sequential trip is one that would require the trip mechanism to be depressed before the trigger in order for the nail gun to fire. The parties stipulated that a sequential trip in the nail gun would have prevented the accident in this case. Evidence admitted at trial showed that Stanley manufactures a sequential trip nail gun, and, indeed, holds a patent on the sequential trip firing mechanism. Second, Farra claimed the nail gun was defective because it did not contain a trigger guard, i.e., some sort of physical barrier around the trigger to prevent it from being hung in the manner employed by Farra. Third, Farra claimed that the nail gun was defective because it did not require the operator to press a button on the trigger in order to fully depress the trigger. Fourth, Farra claimed the nail gun was defective because it did not come with a hook attached to it from which the gun could be hung without the need to depress the gun trigger.
Stanley defended on the grounds that the nail gun was safe for its intended use. Stanley claimed this intended use was "bump firing," which allowed the nail gun's operator to fire nails repeatedly by "bumping" the trip mechanism while continuously holding down the trigger. See Tr. of 12/2/92 at 182-85. Bump firing is not possible with a sequential trip nail gun, and Stanley pointed out that bump firing is faster than firing performed without continuous trigger depression. As to Farra's other claims, Stanley claimed that the nail gun could be safely hung in a number of ways other than that used by Farra, making a hook unnecessary, and that the trigger was sufficiently protected from inadvertent depression by other parts of the gun, making a trigger guard or a button unnecessary. Stanley also claimed that Farra had misused the product, and had assumed the risk of his own injury.
At the close of Stanley's case, Farra made a motion for judgment as a matter of law that the Court denied. See Tr. of 12/3/92 at 47, 56. The case was submitted to the jury on written interrogatories. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 49(b). The jury answered the first interrogatory in the negative, finding that Farra had failed to prove his prima facie case and thus returning a verdict in favor of Stanley. See id. ; Appendix infra (reprinting the written interrogatories). Farra now asserts a number of grounds in support of his motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, a new trial. The motion is properly before the Court, Farra having made a motion for judgment as a matter of law at the close of defendant's case, which the Court denied, and the jury having returned a verdict against the plaintiff. Plaintiff's request for a new trial in the alternative is also properly presented. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b), 59(a)-(b).
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Judgment as a matter of law is appropriately granted where "there is insufficient evidence from which a jury could reasonably find for the [nonmovant]." Laskaris v. Thornburgh, 733 F.2d 260, 264 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 886, 83 L. Ed. 2d 196, 105 S. Ct. 260 (1984). In evaluating the motion, a court must review all the evidence presented during the course of the trial in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, in this case, Stanley, see id., and must draw all inferences in its favor, see In re Air Crash Disaster at Mannheim, Germany, 769 F.2d 115, 123 (3d Cir. 1985), cert. denied sub nom. Schoenborn v. Boeing Co., 474 U.S. 1082, 106 S. Ct. 851, 88 L. Ed. 2d 891 (1986). Where the motion is made by the party who bore the burden of proof at trial, as it is here, it will be granted only under exceptional circumstances. See Link v. Mercedes-Benz of N. Am., Inc., 788 F.2d 918, 921 (3d Cir. 1986). The Court can grant Farra's requested relief only if "the effect of the evidence is not only sufficient to meet his burden of proof, but is overwhelming, leaving no room for the jury to draw significant inferences in favor of [Stanley]." Gay v. Petsock, 917 F.2d 768, 771 (3d Cir. 1990).
In considering a motion for a new trial, a court must refrain from interfering with the jury's verdict unless it is clear that "the jury has reached a seriously erroneous result.'" Lind v. Schenley Indus., Inc., 278 F.2d 79, 89 (3d Cir.) (in banc) (quoting 6 Moore's Federal Practice 3819 (2d ed.)), cert. denied, 364 U.S. 835, 81 S. Ct. 58, 5 L. Ed. 2d 60 (1960). Though the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not delineate the specific grounds upon which a new trial may be granted, referring, rather, to the reasons existing under the common law, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a), the grounds upon which Farra makes his motion, that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence and that there was substantial error in the admission of evidence and in the jury charge, are proper ones. See Lind, 278 F.2d at 89-90; Northeast Women's Ctr., Inc. v. McMonagle, 689 F. Supp. 465, 468 (E.D. Pa. 1988), modified, 868 F.2d 1342 (3d Cir. 1989). See generally 11 Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil § 2805 (1973). The court has broad discretion in deciding a motion for a new trial when the proffered ground is legal error. See Klein v. Hollings, 992 F.2d 1285, 1289-90 (3d Cir. 1993). Such discretion is narrowed when the claim is that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, for in that situation, the court is substituting its own judgment on the facts for that of the jury. See id. at 1290; Lind, 278 F.2d at 90. The court's inquiry in evaluating a motion for a new trial on the basis of trial error is twofold. It must first determine whether an error was made in the course of the trial, and then must determine "whether that error was so prejudicial that refusal to grant a new trial would be 'inconsistent with substantial justice.'" Bhaya v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 709 F. Supp. 600, 601 (E.D. Pa. 1989) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 61), aff'd, 922 F.2d 184 (3d Cir. 1990), cert. denied, U.S. , 111 S. Ct. 2827, 115 L. Ed. 2d 997 (1991); see Gebhardt v. Wilson Freight Forwarding Co., 348 F.2d 129, 133 (3d Cir. 1965) ("If the evidence in the record, viewed from the standpoint of the successful party, is sufficient to support the jury verdict, a new trial is not warranted merely because the jury could have reached a different result.").
1. Farra's motion for judgment as a matter of law