106 F.3d 683 (5th Cir. 1997), 95-11051, Gutierrez v. Excel Corp.

Docket Nº:95-11051.
Citation:106 F.3d 683
Party Name:Teddy GUTIERREZ, Plaintiff, and Pamela Calderon; Maria de la Cruz, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. EXCEL CORPORATION, et al., Defendants, Excel Corporation, Defendant-Appellee. Frances PONCE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. EXCEL CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:March 05, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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106 F.3d 683 (5th Cir. 1997)

Teddy GUTIERREZ, Plaintiff,

and

Pamela Calderon; Maria de la Cruz, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

EXCEL CORPORATION, et al., Defendants,

Excel Corporation, Defendant-Appellee.

Frances PONCE, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

EXCEL CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 95-11051.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

March 5, 1997

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Kevin Thomas Glasheen, Fadduol & Glasheen, Lubbock, TX, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Hugh N. Lyle, Eric Gordon Walraven, Robert L. Craig, Jr., Craig, Terrill & Hale, Lubbock, TX, for Excel Corp.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Before POLITZ, Chief Judge, and SMITH and DUHE, Circuit Judges.

DUHE, Circuit Judge:

Appellants Maria de la Cruz, Frances Ponce, and Pamela Calderon sued their employer, Excel Corporation, for injuries they allegedly suffered while working at Excel's meatpacking plant. 1 Jurisdiction was based upon diversity of citizenship. The jury returned a verdict for de la Cruz and Ponce but found no negligence on the part of Excel as to Calderon. Thereafter, the district court granted Excel's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law and alternatively, Excel's motion for a new trial regarding de la Cruz and Ponce. The district court denied Calderon's motion for a new trial. We affirm the judgment against de la Cruz; reverse the judgment as a matter of law but affirm the order granting Excel a new trial as to Ponce; and affirm the order denying Calderon a new trial.

BACKGROUND

Appellants worked in Excel's Texas meatpacking plant at the "Whizard table," so named because of the "Whizard" knives that the workers use to remove meat from bones that arrive via conveyer belt. The Whizard knife is an electric knife, cylindrical in shape (similar to a flashlight handle) with a rotating blade at one end and a power cord at the other end. Appellants assert that they suffer from various forms of cumulative trauma disorder ("CTD") resulting from their use of the Whizard knives.

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Cumulative trauma disorders are characterized as "wear and tear" on the tissue surrounding joints, ligaments, and tendons. Cumulative trauma disorder refers not to one specific injury, but to numerous disorders caused by the performance of repetitive work over a long period of time. Injuries that may be classified as CTDs include, but are not limited to, carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist, rotator cuff tendinitis in the shoulder, and nerve compression. While CTDs are generally not caused by any one specific traumatic event, there are certain risk factors associated with cumulative trauma, including repetition, force, vibration, cold, and posture.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") has recognized the prevalence of cumulative trauma disorders in meatpacking plants, and has published guidelines offering suggestions on how to minimize the risk factors associated with CTDs. Specific recommendations include increasing the number of workers performing a task, designing jobs to allow self-pacing when feasible, implementing job rotation, and designing jobs to allow sufficient rest pauses. The guidelines also emphasize the need for medical management and proper training of the workers.

Appellants sued Excel, alleging that it negligently failed to implement sufficient safety measures in connection with their use of the Whizard knives. 2 Appellants' theory at trial was that Excel was aware of the high injury rates occurring at the Whizard table, that Excel knew of the high risk factors for cumulative trauma disorder associated with the use of the Whizard knives, and that Excel did little to lessen these high risk factors, despite OSHA recommendations and the suggestions of Excel's own outside consultant. 3 In support of these contentions, Appellants presented documents both describing cumulative trauma disorder and providing recommendations designed to help meatpacking plants mitigate the risk factors associated with it; testimony regarding the working conditions at Excel; and the medical records of the doctors who examined Appellants.

The jury returned a verdict for de la Cruz and Ponce, awarding them $350,000 and $275,000 in damages, respectively, but found that Calderon had not been injured in the course of her employment with Excel. Thereafter, Excel moved for both judgment as a matter of law and in the alternative, a new trial as to de la Cruz and Ponce. Calderon also moved for a new trial. The district court first granted Excel's motion for judgment as a matter of law, finding that de la Cruz and Ponce did not prove that any act or omission on the part of Excel was the proximate cause of their alleged injuries. The court then granted Excel's motion for a new trial, conditioning its decision upon this Court's reversal of the order granting Excel judgment as a matter of law. The court denied Calderon's motion for a new trial. All three Appellants appealed.

DISCUSSION

I. Standards of Review

A. Judgment as a Matter of Law

The standard of review on appeal of a judgment as a matter of law is the same as that used by the trial court in considering the motion. Crosthwait Equipment Co., Inc. v. John Deere Co., 992 F.2d 525, 528 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 991, 114 S.Ct. 549, 126 L.Ed.2d 451 (1993). All evidence with all reasonable inferences must be considered in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id.; Boeing Co. v. Shipman, 411 F.2d 365, 374-75 (5th Cir.1969) (en banc). We affirm the judgment if the facts and inferences point so strongly and overwhelmingly in favor of one party that no reasonable juror could arrive at a verdict contrary to the district court's conclusion. Crosthwait, 992 F.2d at 528. If, however, there is substantial evidence opposed to the motion such that reasonable jurors might reach different conclusions,

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then the motion should have been denied. Id.

B. New Trial

We review the district court's grant or denial of a new trial for abuse of discretion. Allied Bank-West, N.A. v. Stein, 996 F.2d 111, 115 (5th Cir.1993). The standard of review is somewhat narrower when a new trial...

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