181 F.3d 1250 (11th Cir. 1999), 95-2963, Jennings v Bic Corporation

Docket Nº:95-2963.
Citation:181 F.3d 1250
Party Name:Selma JENNINGS, individually and as next friend of Maximo Edwards, a minor, and Maximo Edwards, a minor, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. BIC CORPORATION and Southland Corporation, d.b.a. 7-Eleven, Defendants-Appellees, Montgomery Ward & Co., Defendant-Third-Party-Plaintiff-Appellee, Pajama Corporation of America, a New York corporation, Third-Party-Defen
Case Date:July 22, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 1250

181 F.3d 1250 (11th Cir. 1999)

Selma JENNINGS, individually and as next friend of Maximo Edwards, a minor, and Maximo Edwards, a minor, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

BIC CORPORATION and Southland Corporation, d.b.a. 7-Eleven, Defendants-Appellees,

Montgomery Ward & Co., Defendant-Third-Party-Plaintiff-Appellee,

Pajama Corporation of America, a New York corporation, Third-Party-Defendant.

No. 95-2963.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

July 22, 1999

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. No. 92-369-CIV-T-24E, Thomas McCoun, Judge.

Before COX and BARKETT, Circuit Judges, and SMITH[*], Senior Circuit Judge.

EDWARD S. SMITH, Senior Circuit Judge:

Selma Jennings and Maximo Edwards (collectively, "Jennings") sued the makers and distributors of a pair of pajamas and of a disposable lighter after Maximo was injured when his pajamas caught fire. The District Court for the Middle District of Florida granted partial summary judgment to the BIC Corporation ("BIC"), holding that BIC had no duty to child-proof its lighters under Florida law. The district court also denied Jennings' motion for leave to amend the complaint to state a cause of action under the Consumer Products Safety Act, 15 U.S.C. ' 2051 et seq. Jennings appeals these rulings, along with evidentiary rulings and the jury instructions. We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

Maximo Edwards was injured on November 25, 1987 when his pajamas were accidentally lit on fire by his three-year-old brother, who was playing with a cigarette lighter. Maximo's mother, Selma Jennings, filed suit against BIC, the maker of the lighter; Southland Corporation ("Southland"), which operated the 7-Eleven store where the lighter was purchased; and Montgomery Ward & Co. ("Wards"), where the pajamas were purchased. As relevant here, the suit alleged that BIC was liable in both negligence and strict liability because its lighter suffered from a design defect; specifically, it was alleged to be unreasonably dangerous because BIC failed to child-proof it. The suit also alleged that Southland was liable for distributing the defective product, and that Wards was liable for distributing the flammable pajamas.

Jennings filed suit in Florida state court and the suit was removed by the defendants to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. The district court granted partial summary judgment to BIC on August 29, 1994, holding that Florida law imposes no duty on a manufacturer to child-proof its cigarette lighters. On November 17, 1994, the district court denied Jennings' motion for leave to amend her complaint to state a cause of action under the Consumer Products Safety Act, 15 U.S.C. ' 2051 et seq. The case was tried to a jury. During trial, the court ruled against Jennings on several matters

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relating to expert witness testimony. The jury held for the defendants on all counts. Jennings appeals the trial court's grant of summary judgment to BIC, its denial of leave to amend, and its evidentiary rulings. Jennings also appeals the jury verdict on the ground that the trial court gave erroneous instructions.

Standard of Review

We review a district court's grant of summary judgment completely and independently, with all facts and reasonable inferences therefrom viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Hale v. Tallapoosa County, 50 F.3d 1579, 1581 (11th Cir.1995). We apply the same standard as the district court. Rodgers v. Singletary, 142 F.3d 1252, 1253 (11th Cir.1998). We affirm the grant of summary judgment only if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c). "If the record presents factual issues, the court must not decide them; it must deny the motion and proceed to trial." Clemons v. Dougherty County, Ga., 684 F.2d 1365, 1369 (11th Cir.1982).

"A district court's decision to grant or deny leave to amend is reviewed for abuse of discretion." Forbus v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 30 F.3d 1402, 1404 (11th Cir.1994).

"A district court's decision to admit or exclude expert testimony under Rule 702 is reviewed for abuse of discretion." United States v. Gilliard, 133 F.3d 809, 812 (11th Cir.1998) (citing General Elec. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 141, 118 S.Ct. 512, 139 L.Ed.2d 508 (1997)).1

Our review of a trial court's jury instructions is limited. Eskra v. Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co., 125 F.3d 1406, 1415 (11th Cir.1997). If the instructions accurately reflect the law, the trial judge is given wide discretion as to the style and wording employed in the instruction. Id. "We will reverse the trial court because of an erroneous instruction only if we are 'left with a substantial and ineradicable doubt as to whether the jury was properly guided in its deliberations.' [Carter v. DecisionOne Corp., 122 F.3d 997, 1005 (11th Cir.1997) ] (citation omitted). And we will find reversible error in the refusal to give a requested instruction only if (1) the requested instruction correctly stated the law, (2) the instruction dealt with an issue properly before the jury, and (3) the failure to give the instruction resulted in prejudicial harm to the requesting party." Roberts & Schaefer Co. v. Hardaway Co., 152 F.3d 1283, 1295 (11th Cir.1998).

Duty to Child-proof Cigarette Lighters

Jennings' complaint stated a cause of action against BIC in strict liability, on the basis that its cigarette lighters are defectively designed by reason of their lack of child-proof safety features. The complaint also stated a cause of action in negligence based on an alleged failure to exercise due care in designing the lighters. The district court concluded that, under Florida law, BIC had no duty to make its lighters child-proof and therefore granted summary judgment to BIC.

Federal jurisdiction in this case rests on the diversity of the citizenship of the parties. Therefore, we apply the law of the appropriate state, in this case Florida. See Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S.Ct. 817, 82 L.Ed. 1188 (1938). Florida law provides no explicit answer to the central issue in this case, however, because the Florida Supreme Court has not considered the duty of manufacturers to child-proof cigarette lighters.2

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Although no binding Florida precedent is directly on point, decisions of the Florida courts provide sufficient and significant guidance as to how the Florida Supreme Court would rule on the issue if the issue were considered. Our consideration of Florida law convinces us that BIC's decision not to child-proof its cigarette lighters does not subject it to liability under either strict liability or negligence.

A. Strict Liability

Florida adopted the strict products liability standard of the Restatement (Second) of Torts ' 402(a) in West v. Caterpillar Tractor Co., 336 So.2d 80, 87 (Fla.1976). Under this standard, the manufacturer of a defective product can be held liable if the manufacturer made the product in question, if the product has a defect that renders it unreasonably dangerous, and if the unreasonably dangerous condition is the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury. Id. The manufacturer's liability also extends to bystanders who are injured by the defective product. Id. at 89. The issue in this case is whether the lack of child-proof or child-resistant features on a cigarette lighter renders the lighter defective and unreasonably dangerous.

"Under the theory of strict products liability adopted in West v. Caterpillar Tractor Co., 336 So.2d 80 (Fla.1976), a product may be defective by virtue of a design defect, a manufacturing defect, or an inadequate warning." Ferayorni v. Hyundai Motor Co., 711 So.2d 1167, 1170 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.1998). Jennings has not alleged that the lighter had a manufacturing defect or that a lack of warning made it unreasonably dangerous. The issue in this case is therefore limited to whether the alleged design defect of the lighter, i.e., its lack of childproof features, renders it unreasonably dangerous.

The defectiveness of a design is determined based on an objective standard, not from the viewpoint of any specific user. See Hobart Corp. v. Siegle, 600 So.2d 503, 505 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.1992). The Hobart court noted that the Florida Standard Jury Instructions allow the jury to be instructed on the consumer expectation test of ' 402A, the risk-benefit test, or both. Id. at 504 n. 3. However, "[b]oth tests require application of the objective standard to determine the defective nature of the product. The consumer expectation test requires consideration of the ordinary consumer's expectations. The risk-benefit analysis requires consideration of the 'normal public expectation of danger.' " Id. (quoting Auburn Mach. Works Co., Inc. v. Jones, 366 So.2d 1167, 1170 (Fla.1979)).

See also Norton v. Snapper Power Equip., 806 F.2d 1545, 1548 (11th Cir.1987), which notes that the Florida Supreme Court has adopted a balancing test for determining whether a product is "unreasonably dangerous." The factors to be considered include "public knowledge and expectation of the danger." Id.

Thus, defectiveness is not judged from a child's perspective, but from the perspective of an "ordinary consumer" or the "normal public expectation." The ordinary consumer and general public appreciate that lighters can start dangerous fires and therefore that care is required in handling them. A lighter without child-proof features is not "defective" based on objective standard; it could only be found "defective" based on a subjective, child's-perspective standard. Since neither...

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