724 F.2d 243 (1st Cir. 1984), 83-1230, McDonald v. Federal Laboratories, Inc.

Docket Nº:83-1230.
Citation:724 F.2d 243
Party Name:William D. McDONALD, Plaintiff, Appellee, v. FEDERAL LABORATORIES, INC., Defendant, Appellant.
Case Date:January 03, 1984
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Page 243

724 F.2d 243 (1st Cir. 1984)

William D. McDONALD, Plaintiff, Appellee,

v.

FEDERAL LABORATORIES, INC., Defendant, Appellant.

No. 83-1230.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

January 3, 1984

Argued Oct. 4, 1983.

Page 244

Stephen R. Kravetz, Foxboro, Mass., with whom Fine & Kravetz, and Howard Davis, Foxboro, Mass., were on brief, for defendant, appellant.

Richard J. Bennett, Boston, Mass., with whom Joseph P. Collins, Boston, Mass., was on brief, for plaintiff, appellee.

Before COFFIN, Circuit Judge, GIBSON, [*] Senior Circuit Judge, and BREYER, Circuit Judge.

FLOYD R. GIBSON, Senior Circuit Judge.

Federal Laboratories Inc., the defendant in this breach of warranty and negligent design case, appeals a $789,650 jury verdict in favor of William McDonald claiming, inter alia, the amount of the verdict was excessive and thus the district court should have granted Federal's motion for a remittitur or a new trial. We affirm.

I.

The plaintiff McDonald, a 42 year old police officer, brought a breach of warranty and negligent design action for damages he sustained when a mace 1 cannister ("The Streamer"), manufactured by Federal, accidentally discharged while he was carrying it in a holster on his gun belt. The accident occurred at about 1:00 a.m. on July 9, 1979, while McDonald was answering a peace disturbance call. As McDonald exited the police car, the mace cannister banged against the car door, causing the mace contents to discharge. The mace penetrated through McDonald's police uniform, saturating his stomach, legs and groin area. McDonald's eyes and cheekbones were also burning. He immediately returned to the station to wash the exposed parts of his body. Though having a "funny feeling" in his pants or loin area, McDonald did not change his clothing because he believed that the mace could not have penetrated a heavy pair of police pants. He finished his duty tour at 8:00 a.m. on July 9, 1979, and went home.

Later in the day of July 9, 1979, McDonald began experiencing severe discomfort and blistering on his stomach, legs and groin area. He went to a local health center and received prescription medication from a dermatologist. Because of the severity

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of the blistering, McDonald was unable to return to work until July 29, 1979. Upon his return, McDonald continued to apply medication and bandages to the inflamed areas, but, after a month, the pain and itching became unbearable and McDonald discontinued work on September 29, 1979. During the next few months, McDonald's family physician, Dr. Baskies, prescribed various skin medications which proved ineffective in controlling McDonald's skin problem. On December 13, 1979, Dr. Baskies referred McDonald to Dr. Richard Brown, a dermatologist who treated McDonald through March 22, 1980, when he returned to duty. By the time of his return to duty, McDonald's skin problem was somewhat under control, though he still experienced redness and itching on his stomach and legs.

While on duty on August 2, 1980, McDonald was again exposed to mace, triggering a recurrence of the severe blistering. As a result, McDonald became unable to return to police work and was involuntarily retired in December 1981.

At trial, during November 1982, Dr. Brown testified that he continued treating McDonald after his re-exposure to mace, prescribing cortisone tablets, myacin drugs, and various skin creams. Dr. Brown diagnosed McDonald's skin disorder as contact dermatitis, traceable to the initial exposure to mace, and subsequent eczematous eruptions with sensitization to many substances, including mace, gasoline, and various solvents (e.g., paint thinner and turpentine). McDonald's dermatitis was characterized by constant itching, open sores, infection, exacerbations, inflammation and blistering. Dr. Brown concluded that McDonald's skin condition rendered him incapable of performing police work or any other work involving possible exposure to substances to which he had become sensitized.

Dr. Brown's testimony essentially echoed the findings of Dr. Edmund Finnerty, a dermatologist who examined McDonald on behalf of the defendant on June 15, 1982. Dr. Finnerty, noting multiple areas of eczema and dermatitis over many parts of McDonald's body, concluded that McDonald had sensitization dermatitis, rendering him disabled.

The jury and trial judge also had the benefit of observing some of the affected areas of McDonald's body, including his abdomen and thighs. McDonald testified that his scrotum and penis were similarly affected by recurring episodes of dermatitis. The blistering was in a state of remission when he testified at trial, which was some twenty-seven months after his re-exposure to mace.

McDonald's wife also testified, rather forcefully yet without undue passion, that her husband's dermatitis had never cleared-up and was adversely affecting his mental and physical condition as well as his enjoyment of conjugal relations.

The evidence concerning Federal's product liability included the testimony of plaintiff's expert, Mr. Schofield, that Federal's Streamer was poorly designed because it: (1) did not contain a locking device; and (2) had insufficient clearance around the plunger causing it to bind when pressure was exerted on it. Presumably, a locking device or greater clearance around the plunger would have prevented the plunger from activating when the mace cannister struck the police car door. Schofield testified that...

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