After a jury issued a conflicting verdict in the product liability case of Coba v. Tricam Indus., the defense made a crucial error: They did not object to it right away.
It was only after that the defense pressed the trial court for a reconsideration, pointing out the discrepancy. Specifically, defense noted the jury found the product in question – a ladder – was not defectively designed, but still decided the defendant manufacturer was strictly liable for the injuries of decedent who fell from it.
Trial court denied consideration, but a Florida appellate court reversed, citing the “fundamental nature” exception to the widely accepted rule that defense must challenge inconsistent verdicts with a timely objection. However, the Florida Supreme Court reversed, siding with trial court on this issue and finding the $1.5 million verdict (reduced by 80 percent per a finding of comparative negligence) should be upheld.
Although the outcome here for plaintiffs was favorable, our Asheville injury lawyers would rather our cases not be won on mere technicalities. We want to make sure the facts fully support our position, and that the procedure we follow to prove our case will be strong enough to withstand an appeal.
Ladder injuries are a major problem in the U.S. Falls in general are one of the leading causes of death among adults in the U.S., and ladders are involved in approximately 40 percent of all fatal falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In this case, decedent tragically suffered a fatal fall from a 13-foot ladder while two of his children were present. His children, as personal representatives of his estate, brought action against the manufacturer of the ladder, alleging strict (automatic) liability for designing, manufacturing, marketing, distributing or selling a ladder in a defective or dangerous condition. Plaintiffs also alleged manufacturer was liable under theories of negligence because they breached the duty of reasonable care to market, sell and distribute a ladder in reasonably safe condition.
The primary issue was whether the ladder was defectively designed. This was a sharply disputed point.
Plaintiff’s expert witness testified the ladder was defective because it had the potential to look as if it was in a locked position, when in fact it was not.
Meanwhile, defense expert witness testified that was not possible with this particular model of ladder. Further, defense testified decedent was responsible for the fall because he had set up the ladder in a semi-slippery surface. This, they contend, caused the ladder to slip – not a false-lock mechanism.
Jurors determined product was not defective, but yet defense was negligent and this was a legal cause of decedent’s death. However, they apportioned 80 percent of fault to decedent and 20 percent to manufacturer.
Defendant sought to set aside the verdict for the “fundamentally inconsistent” nature, but trial court declined because defense had not timely objected before the close of trial.
In its reversal, the appellate court in a split decision found there had been no evidence to support an alleged design defect, and the jury even specifically found there wasn’t one.
However, in its reversal, the Florida Supreme Court noted the appellate court did not explain how it determined which of the conflicting findings from the jury represented the jurors’ actual intent. Further, the defense waived the right to appeal on this point, considering it was not timely objected.
Contact our Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.
Coba v. Tricam Indus., Inc., May 14, 2015, Florida Supreme Court
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