The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM W. CALDWELL
We are considering Plaintiffs' motion for a new trial under Fed. R. Civ. P. 59 and Defendant's motion for sanctions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 11. We exercise jurisdiction over this case according to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
I. Facts and Procedural History
On October 11, 1985, a fire in the apartment of Timothy and Catherine Griggs caused extensive damage and injured their then-11-month old son, Zachary. The parties agree that Zachary's stepbrother, Kenneth Hempstead, then almost four-years-old, started the fire. Plaintiffs claim that Kenneth played with a butane lighter he found in his stepfather's pocket. Further, they argue that the lighter was manufactured by Defendant, BIC Corporation ("BIC") and that it was defectively designed.
Before trial, Defendant offered several motions in limine and Plaintiffs offered one. We declined to rule on Plaintiffs' motion, indicating rather that we would consider objections to particular evidence as they arose.
The case went to trial on October 25, 1993. After hearing considerable evidence, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendant on October 29, 1993, finding that Plaintiffs had not proved by a preponderance of the evidence that Kenneth had used a BIC lighter to ignite the fire in question. On November 4, 1993, Plaintiffs filed the current motion for a new trial. That motion is now ripe for disposition. On November 24, 1993, Defendant filed a motion for sanctions according to Fed. R. Civ. P. 11. That motion, too, is fully briefed.
Plaintiffs' motion relies principally upon four grounds: (1) that the Court committed error in admitting certain defense testimony, (2) that the great weight of the evidence was against the verdict, and (3) that the Court committed error in not allowing Plaintiffs to elicit opinions from their witnesses, and (4) that the Court committed error in not allowing Plaintiffs to question their experts about other fires alleged to have been ignited with BIC lighters. We will consider these grounds seriatim.
A. Admission of Defense Testimony
Plaintiffs argue that the Court erroneously admitted testimony elicited solely for the purpose of portraying Mr. and Mrs. Griggs in a negative light.
As a threshold matter, we note that in almost all instances cited by Plaintiffs, there was no timely objection made to the testimony. Fed. R. Evid. 103 mandates
(1) Objection. In case the ruling is one admitting evidence, a timely objection or motion to strike appears of record, stating the specific ground of objection, if the specific ground was not apparent from the context; or
(d) Plain error. Nothing in this rule precludes taking notice of plain errors affecting substantial rights although they were not brought to the attention of the court.
Plaintiffs argue that their in limine motion sought to exclude evidence offered only to cast aspersions on their characters. As noted, however, we declined to rule on the motion, deferring decisions until the evidence was offered in context. See, supra, n.2. As such, the motion in limine did not serve as a proper objection because there was no ruling. Bruno v. W.B. Saunders Co., 882 F.2d 760, 767-68 (3d Cir. 1989). Plaintiffs were required to offer their objections as they became appropriate at trial. Thus, to the extent this argument is premised upon testimony to which Plaintiffs failed to object, and because there was no plain error, we find the objections waived. Fed. R. Evid. 103.
Plaintiffs first argue that it was error to admit evidence that Mr. and Mrs. Griggs used matches on occasions before the fire, that Kenneth had played with matches before the fire, and that the Griggs were careless prior to the fire at issue.
Plaintiffs offer no citation to the record for their contention regarding testimony as to their use of matches before they moved to the home on Berryhill Street in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in which the fire occurred. They do, however, point to testimony regarding their alleged use of matches at the Berryhill home just prior to the fire. Louise Russell, a neighbor of the Griggs when they lived on Berryhill Street, testified that she babysat for the Griggs children in August, September, and October, 1985, just before the October 11, 1985, fire.
Q And on all those occasions were you inside their house babysitting?
Q Do you know if Mr. and Mrs. Griggs were smokers at that time?
Q Did you observe them smoking?
Q Did you observe what they used to light their cigarettes?
Q And when you would babysit over the course of August and September and October, up until October 10, did you see anything inside the apartment of the Griggs that they used to light their cigarettes?
Q Okay, what did you see?
Q Where did you see those?
A They were just laying around.
Q Did you ever see any Bic lighters in their apartment?
Q Are you a smoker yourself?
Q When was the last time before the fire that you were inside the Griggs home?
Q And was that the time that you went over to babysit?
Q While you were there did you notice whether or not there were matches present?
Q Where did you see the matches on that occasion?
A They were laying in the front room.
Transcript at 394-96. Another neighbor, Debra Arnold, testified as follows:
Q Did you have occasion to observe Tim and Cathy Griggs smoking?
Q Where were they when you observed them?
Q How often over the course of the two or three months prior to this fire did you observe them smoking outside the front or back?
Q During that period of time did you notice what they used to light ...