The opinion of the court was delivered by: HURD
On June 7, 1994, in the town of Middlefield, Otsego County, New York, the plaintiff, Bernard C. Bunt, Jr. ("Bunt" or "plaintiff"), in his capacity as a lineman for the third-party defendant, Otsego Electric Cooperative, Inc. ("Otsego"), was aloft in a bucket of a digger derrick
manufactured by the defendant, Altec Industries, Inc. ("Altec"). The plaintiff elevated the bucket through the use of controls attached to the boom of the digger derrick. In elevating the bucket to a point located on a power line pole, the controls became tangled in the power wires causing the bucket to break free from the boom of the digger derrick, falling approximately thirty to thirty-five feet to the ground. As a result, the plaintiff sustained severe and permanent injuries to his right foot.
In July 1995, the plaintiff commenced an action against Altec citing jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The complaint maintained claims for negligence, breach of warranty, and strict products liability. Also included in the complaint was a claim for loss of consortium on behalf of the plaintiff Laura L. Bunt ("Mrs. Bunt"). Altec denied the material allegations in the complaint, raised certain affirmative defenses, including comparative negligence, and commenced a third-party action against Otsego for indemnity and/or contribution. Otsego denied the material allegations in the third-party complaint
The case was tried in Utica, New York, between December 9, 1996, and December 13, 1996. The basic theory against Altec was that it was responsible for the accident because it designed, manufactured, and sold the digger derrick without a guard or shield over the bucket controls. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs on all three claims. The jury also found the plaintiff comparatively negligent, assessing his fault at twenty percent (20%), and no negligence on the part of Otsego.
The jury awarded total damages of One Million Six Hundred Ninety-five Thousand Four Hundred Seventy-four Dollars ($ 1,695,474.00) to the Plaintiffs. The award was broken down into Eight Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars ($ 850,000.00) past and future pain and suffering; Six Hundred Seventeen Thousand, One Hundred Ninety-seven Dollars ($ 617,197.00) past and future loss of earnings; Twenty-eight Thousand, Two Hundred Seventy-seven Dollars ($ 28,277.00) medical expenses to Bunt; and Two Hundred Thousand Dollars ($ 200,000.00) past and future loss of services to Mrs. Bunt. The award was reduced by twenty percent (20%), representing plaintiff's comparative fault. Following this computation, judgment against Altec was entered in favor of the plaintiff in the sum of One Million One Hundred Ninety-six Thousand Three Hundred Seventy-nine and 20/100 Dollars ($ 1,196,379.20); in favor of Mrs. Bunt in the sum of One Hundred Sixty Thousand Dollars ($ 160,000.00); and dismissing the third-party complaint.
Altec has moved for an order pursuant to Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, setting aside the verdict in favor of the plaintiffs and the judgment entered thereon, and directing that judgment be entered in favor of Altec on the ground that the jury's verdict was against the weight of the evidence. In the alternative, Altec has moved for an order pursuant to Rule 59(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, setting aside the verdict and the judgment entered thereon, and granting Altec a new trial on the grounds that the jury's verdict was against the weight of the evidence in both the main and third-party actions. Additionally, Altec maintains that it is entitled to a new trial because the damages awarded to the plaintiffs were excessive.
A. Rule 50(b) - Judgment as a Matter of Law.
This court can only grant judgment as a matter of law on a claim if that claim "cannot under controlling law be maintained." Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1). Judgment as a matter of law is to be granted "only when, viewing the evidence most favorably to the [nonmoving party], there can be but one conclusion as to the verdict that reasonable men could have reached." Weldy v. Piedmont Airlines, Inc., 985 F.2d 57, 59-60 (2d Cir. 1993)(citations and quotations omitted); Slade v. Whitco Corp., 811 F. Supp. 71, 73 (N.D.N.Y.), aff'd, 999 F.2d 537 (2d Cir. 1993). "The nonmovant must be given the benefit of all reasonable inferences." Weldy, 985 F.2d at 60. The defendant fulfilled the procedural necessity of moving for judgment as a matter of law before the case was submitted to the jury.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(2), (b); Slade, 811 F. Supp. at 73.
Altec requests that their motion pursuant to Rule 50(b) be granted because the plaintiffs have failed to prove that the digger derrick was defectively designed. Specifically, Altec argues that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate via sufficient scientific evidence, by way of a qualified technical expert, that the lack of a guard on the upper controls of the digger derrick was a design defect.
Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, "a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education" may give opinion testimony relating to "scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge" if it will assist the jury in their understanding of the evidence or a determination of a fact in issue. Fed. R. Evid. 702. "Liberality and flexibility in evaluating qualifications should be the rule . . . the expert should not be required to satisfy an overly narrow test of his own qualifications." Lappe v. American Honda Motor Co., 857 F. Supp. 222, 226 (N.D.N.Y. 1994), aff'd, 101 F.3d 682 (2d Cir. 1996). However, the expert is also reasonably confined to his subject of expertise and further ...