590 F.2d 844 (10th Cir. 1979), 77-1413, Randolph v. Collectramatic, Inc.

Docket Nº:77-1413.
Citation:590 F.2d 844
Party Name:Charles C. RANDOLPH, d/b/a Hardens Fried Chicken, Appellant, v. COLLECTRAMATIC, INC., Appellee.
Case Date:January 15, 1979
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Page 844

590 F.2d 844 (10th Cir. 1979)

Charles C. RANDOLPH, d/b/a Hardens Fried Chicken, Appellant,



No. 77-1413.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

January 15, 1979

Submitted Nov. 15, 1978.

Page 845

Jesse L. Leeds, Muskogee, Okl., for appellant.

Thomas R. Brett and Roy C. Breedlove of Jones, Givens, Brett, Gotcher, Doyle & Bogan, Inc., Tulsa, Okl., for appellee.

Page 846

Before McWILLIAMS, BARRETT and McKAY, Circuit Judges.

BARRETT, Circuit Judge.

Charles C. Randolph (Randolph) appeals from an order of the trial court granting a directed verdict to Collectramatic, Inc. (Collectramatic). Jurisdiction vests by reason of diversity.

Collectramatic is a manufacturer and distributor of pressure cookers intended for commercial use. In the fall of 1975, Collectramatic sold Randolph four new pressure cookers for use in his restaurant located in Muskogee, Oklahoma. The Collectramatic pressure cooker consists primarily of a metal reservoir which holds approximately 8 gallons of cooking oil. The reservoir sits atop four legs approximately 18 inches off the floor. Attached to the bottom of the reservoir is a cylindrical container, called a Collectramat, which extends downward to a point two inches from the floor. The Collectramat's function is to catch hot oil drippings from the cooking process. The Collectramat is attached to the reservoir by screwing it into place in a hole located at the bottom of the container. In order to assure that the Collectramat will not disengage and leak hot oil, a pin can be inserted into the machine which, when used properly, prevents the Collectramat from unscrewing.

On June 6, 1976, Randolph was using the Collectramatic pressure cookers when one of the cookers exploded causing hot oil to spew from the Collectramat injuring him.

On July 29, 1976, Randolph filed an action in state court seeking compensation from Collectramatic for injuries he allegedly sustained in the pressure cooker explosion. Randolph's complaint was premised on the theory that the pressure cooker was defectively designed and unreasonably dangerous in that it lacked proper warning devices and safety characteristics. The complaint also set up claims based upon the doctrines of negligence, warranty, and Res ipsa loquitur.

Following service of summons, Collectramatic petitioned for removal to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma. The petition for removal was granted. Collectramatic answered Randolph's complaint by general denial of the allegations contained therein and by asserting various affirmative defenses. The case was set for jury trial on April 11, 1977. At that time, Randolph abandoned his negligence claim and chose to proceed to trial on the theory of manufacturers' products liability.

Following the presentation of Randolph's evidence, Collectramatic moved for a directed verdict which was granted by the court on April 13, 1977.

On appeal Randolph contends that the district court erred in (1) refusing to allow him to state his opinion (as a lay witness) as to what safety devices should have been incorporated into the design of the Collectramatic pursuant to Fed.Rules Evid. Rule 701, 28 U.S.C.A. and (2) granting Collectramatic's motion for a directed verdict.


Rule 701, Supra, provides as follows:

Rule 701. Opinion testimony by lay witnesses

If the witness is not testifying as an expert, his testimony in the form of opinions or inferences is limited to those opinions or inferences which are (a) rationally based on perception of the witness and (b) helpful to a clear understanding of his testimony or the determination of a fact in issue.

The primary purpose of Rule 701 is to allow nonexpert witnesses to give opinion testimony when, as a matter of practical necessity, events which they have personally observed cannot otherwise be fully presented to the court or the jury. See, Weinstein's Evidence P 701(02) (1977). Generally, however, this rule does not permit a lay witness to express an opinion as to matters which are beyond the realm of common experience and which require the special skill and knowledge of an expert witness.

As stated in Jones on Evidence :

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. . . (I)t is not to be inferred that the opinions of ordinary witnesses are competent as to subjects which require special study and skill and which are proper for the testimony of the expert as distinguished from the ordinary witness . . . . 2 Jones on Evidence, § 14:3 (1972).

We recognize that at least one opinion has allowed a lay witness to state his opinion as to the safety of a particular design in a products liability case pursuant to Rule 701. Farner v. Paccar, Inc., 562 F.2d 518 (8th Cir. 1977).

In Farner two truckdrivers were killed instantly when their truck veered out of its lane and crashed into a concrete column on Interstate 90 near Cle Elum, Washington. Jean Farner, as the administratrix of her husband's estate, brought an action alleging that Paccar negligently designed, tested and manufactured the truck's "air leaf" suspension system. At trial, testimony by a lay witness was admitted which indicated that the witness had personally observed several springs manufactured by Paccar break on his Peterbilt trucks prior to the installation of safety chains; that subsequent to this modification, another spring failure was experienced; and that the truck's axle was held in place by the safety chain thereby preventing a serious accident. The admission of the lay witness' opinion that the Paccar suspension system was improperly designed due to its...

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