Reed v. Malone’s Mechanical, Inc., et al.: On Jury Instructions in a Personal Injury Case

Reed v. Malone’s Mechanical, Inc., et al., an appeal from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit, involves a mechanic (“Plaintiff”) who was hired to help renovate a chicken processing plant. Plaintiff was employed by a contractor (“Defendant 1”), and that contract was managed by another contractor (“Defendant 2”).

pipes1.jpgPlaintiff was performing work on overhead pipes designed to transport hot cooking oil to cooking equipment located in other parts of the factory. Plaintiff was diagnosing a problem with a commercial fryer when another worker (“Defendant 3”) was operating a scissor lift. The worker on the lift was adjusting a 12-pound pipe saddle when it fell and landed on Plaintiff, injuring him.

Plaintiff first sued all parties except Defendant 2 in federal court under diversity jurisdiction. As your Winston-Salem personal injury lawyer can explain, for a case to be heard in federal court, it must involve either a federal question (such as the constitutionality of a statute) or have complete diversity and an amount in controversy over $75,000. In the context of a federal case, diversity means that the plaintiff and defendants are from different states. A corporation is considered a resident of the state in which it has its principal place of business, corporate headquarters, or any state in which it conducts business.

The chicken plant owner (“Defendant 4”) moved for summary judgment, and the case was dismissed. At this point, Plaintiff re-filed his lawsuit against Defendant 1 and Defendant 3, claiming that the employer was negligent in failing to secure the pipe saddle, for failing to warn him that dangerous construction work was going on above him, and that it was negligent to schedule work on an overhead pipe while others were working below.

At trial, Plaintiff requested that the jury be instructed on particular safety regulations and policies of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). While the trial court declined to give the instructions presented by Plaintiff, it did give the jury a reworded version of the instructions requested. Plaintiff objected to the wording selected by the court.

In a trial, the court will typically use instructions from a book of standard jury instructions. Either party can ask the court charge the jury on instructions from the book, or request that certain instructions are not given to the jury on grounds that they will confuse the jury or conflate the issues. Typically, a judge will listen to the parties, but he or she has significant discretion on how to instruct a jury.

While there were many complex issues raised at appeal, on the issue of the jury instruction, the court of appeals applied a standard known as abuse of discretion. The court will not reexamine the facts when making a ruling. The appellate court will defer to the trial court’s interpretation of the relevant facts, unless the trial judge clearly abused his or her decision when making a ruling.

In this case, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s use of a reworded instruction. The point of contention dealt with an OSHA requirement that when workers are working at a raised elevation, certain protections for fall hazards must be used.

Contact the Winston-Salem injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Reed v. Malone’s Mechanical, Inc., et al, Aug. 29, 2014, United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Gregory v. Cott – Nursing Home Staffers Can’t Sue Dementia Patients, Sept. 1, 2014, Winston-Salem Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

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