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Congilaro v. Crown Equipment Corporation

United States District Court, Second Circuit

September 23, 2013


ROBERT E. LAHM, ESQ., ROBERT E. LAHM, PLLC, Syracuse, New York, Attorneys for Plaintiffs.


RENEE N. SEWCHAND, ESQ., THOMAS J. CULLIN, ESQ., GOODELL, DEVRIES, LEECH & DANN, LLP, Baltimore, Maryland, Attorneys for Defendant.


FREDERICK J. SCULLIN, Jr., Senior District Judge.


Currently before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, for a new trial pursuant to Rules 50(d), 59(a)(1)(A), and 60(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Dkt. No. 95.


On May 31, 2007, Plaintiff Jason Congilaro was injured during the course of his employment at the Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Marcy, New York, while operating a standup rider forklift, model RR5225-45, which Defendant manufactured. Plaintiff Jason Congilaro drove the stand-up forklift through a puddle of clear liquid on the warehouse floor and crashed into a firewall door. His lower leg was crushed between the firewall door and the forklift upon impact. Wal-Mart's post-accident inspection of the subject forklift on May 31, 2007, revealed no steering, braking, or other mechanical or functional problems. As a result of this accident, Plaintiff Jason Congilaro underwent multiple surgeries, including a left leg amputation below his knee.

On June 22, 2009, Plaintiffs commenced this product liability action against Defendant, setting forth causes of action for negligence, strict liability, breach of express and implied warranties, and loss of consortium. See Dkt. No. 1-2 at 4-17. Plaintiffs principally contended that the subject forklift was unreasonably dangerous and defective because its operator compartment lacked a metal, latched rear door as standard equipment. See id.

On April 15, 2013, the Court commenced a jury trial of this matter; and, after a seven-day trial, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Defendant. See Dkt. No. 79. Specifically, the jury determined that the stand-up rider forklift at issue was not defective and that Defendant was not negligent. See id. The Court entered a final judgment in favor of Defendant on April 30, 2013. See Dkt. No. 93. Plaintiffs then filed the pending motion, see Dkt. No. 95, which Defendant opposed, see Dkt. No. 97.


Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that "[a] court may grant a new trial for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court, ' Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)(A), including if the verdict is against the weight of the evidence." Raedle v. Credit Agricole Indosuez, 670 F.3d 411, 417 (2d Cir. 2012). "The district court ordinarily should not grant a new trial unless it is convinced that the jury has reached a seriously erroneous result or that the verdict is a miscarriage of justice." Smith v. Lightning Bolt Prods., Inc., 861 F.2d 363, 370 (2d Cir. 1988) (citations omitted); see also DLC Mgmt. Corp. v. Town of Hyde Park, 163 F.3d 124, 134 (2d Cir. 1998) (stating that "[a] court considering a Rule 59 motion for a new trial... should only grant such a motion when the jury's verdict is 'egregious'" (quotation omitted)). However, "Rule 59 is not a vehicle for relitigating old issues, presenting the case under new theories, securing a rehearing on the merits, or otherwise taking a 'second bite at the apple[.]'" Sequa Corp. v. GBJ Corp., 156 F.3d 136, 144 (2d Cir. 1998) (citations omitted).

"On new trial motions, the trial judge may weigh the evidence and the credibility of witnesses and need not view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict winner." Raedle, 670 F.3d at 418 (citing United States v. Landau, 155 F.3d 93, 104 (2d Cir. 1998)). Nevertheless, "trial judges must exercise their ability to weigh credibility with caution and great restraint, as a judge should rarely disturb a jury's evaluation of a witness's credibility, '... and may not freely substitute his or her assessment of the credibility of witnesses for that of the jury simply because the judge disagrees with the jury....'" Id. (internal quotations omitted)); see also Snyder v. Shenendehowa Cent. Sch. Dist., No. 1:98-CV-1292, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17302, *7-*8 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 22, 2011) (stating that "[t]he primary responsibility of a judge reviewing a Rule 59 motion is to ensure that a jury verdict does not impose manifest injustice" (citations omitted)). Indeed, although "Rule 59(a)(1)(A) affords trial courts latitude in reviewing jury verdicts and in considering credibility when doing so[, ]... a verdict... predicated almost entirely on the jury's assessments of credibility, ... should not be disturbed except in an egregious case, to correct a seriously erroneous result, or to prevent a miscarriage of justice." Raedle, 670 F.3d at 418-19.

In support of their motion for a new trial, Plaintiffs argue that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence. In support of this motion, however, Plaintiffs merely reargue select pieces of evidence and rehash portions of the trial testimony without offering any explanation as to how that evidence and testimony contravenes the jury's verdict. Although Plaintiffs may disagree with the jury's verdict, such disagreement does not entitle them to a new trial under Rule 59. See Ullman v. Starbucks Corp., 152 F.Supp.2d 322, 326 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) (stating that "[t]he ...

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