November 28, 1995
Thirty-six Philadelphia firefighters, thirty-five of whom were burned at the knees and one of whom was burned at the shoulders and forearms while fighting structural fires, brought this products liability action against Morning Pride Manufacturing, Inc. ("Morning Pride"), the manufacturer of their protective clothing known as bunker gear. The firefighters claim that they were burned because Morning Pride failed to provide warnings necessary to make the bunker gear safe for its intended use.
This case was tried three times. The first two trials resulted in hung juries. Finally, at the third trial, the jury found that each of the thirty-six firefighters had proved by a preponderance of the evidence that Morning Pride was liable to each of them because it had failed to provide adequate warnings about the risks of the burn injuries each received while wearing the bunker gear and that its failure to provide adequate warnings was a proximate cause of each of their burn injuries. The jury assessed a total of $ 977,000.00 in compensatory damages. On March 10, 1995, after hearing evidence as to punitive damages in the second part of the bifurcated trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Morning Pride.
Before the Court is Morning Pride's post-trial Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law pursuant to Fed. Rule Civ. P. 50(b). Morning Pride contends that some of the firefighters failed to meet their burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the inadequate warning proximately caused their injuries. Defendant also contends that the firefighters failed to meet their burden of proving that the warning was inadequate because they did not present expert testimony on the inadequacy of the warning. Morning Pride also asserts that Section 388 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts is a defense to this Section 402A action.
Also before the Court is the firefighters' motion for a new trial on their claim for punitive damages. The firefighters contend that during the punitive damages phase of the trial, the Court improperly admitted evidence of Morning Pride's communications with the Philadelphia Fire Department and the firefighters' union concerning the knee burn problem.
The Court will deny both Morning Pride's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law and the firefighters' Motion for a New Trial on Punitive Damages.
A. Procedural Background
This action was originally filed on March 6, 1992. Two other actions, filed on February 24, 1993 and August 17, 1993, were consolidated with the original action on September 10, 1993. Jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship.
In the first trial, which took place in March of 1994, the jury considered the cases of thirty-nine firefighters. In the second trial, which took place in July of 1994, the jury considered the cases of thirty-six firefighters. In the third trial, there were also thirty-six firefighters.
On January 27, 1995, prior to the third trial, the Court issued a bifurcation order directing the parties to present evidence in the first part of the trial relevant only to the firefighters' strict liability claims based on the failure to warn and compensatory damages. The parties were specifically instructed that in the first phase of the trial, evidence as to state of the art and evidence of industry standards, custom and usage, negligence and/or contributory negligence, good faith, and due care would not be admitted. The firefighters' claims for punitive damages were to be tried in the second part of the bifurcated trial.
As required by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's 1978 decision of Azzarello v. Black Brothers Co., 480 Pa. 547, 391 A.2d 1020 (Pa. 1978), see also Mackowick, et al. v. Westinghouse Electric Corp., 525 Pa. 52, 575 A.2d 100 (Pa. 1990); Nowak, et al. v. Faberge USA, Inc., et al., 32 F.3d 755 (3d Cir. 1994), at the close of the firefighters' case-in-chief, the Court, outside the presence of the jury, ruled that the evidence presented showed that the bunker gear was in an unreasonably dangerous and defective condition when it was sold to the City of Philadelphia because it lacked adequate warnings. The Court found that the label was insufficient to put each firefighter on notice that he could be burned through his bunker gear when he kneeled or otherwise compressed the gear while fighting a structural fire. The Court also denied Morning Pride's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law pursuant to Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 50.
At the conclusion of the liability phase of the trial, the Court instructed the jury that because there were thirty-six firefighters in the case, they should consider the liability of Morning Pride separately as to each individual firefighter. The jury was provided with thirty-six verdict forms, one for each firefighter. The verdict form contained the following question as to liability:
Has the plaintiff, (individual firefighter's name inserted here), proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the bunker gear was in a defective condition in that Morning Pride Manufacturing, Inc. failed to adequately warn him of the risks of the burn injuries that he received and that the defendant's failure to adequately warn him was a proximate cause of his injuries?