77 F.3d 1235 (10th Cir. 1996), 94-3296, Patton v. TIC United Corp.

Docket Nº:94-3296, 94-3297.
Citation:77 F.3d 1235
Party Name:Ryan M. PATTON and Kathy Patton Strunk, Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross-Appellants, v. TIC UNITED CORP., a Delaware corporation, Defendant-Appellant/Cross-Appellee. Implant Device Education Association; The Wichita Area Support Group for the Survivors of Silicone Breast Implants; Kansas Trial Lawyers Association; Colorado Trial Lawyers Association; Defe
Case Date:February 16, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 1235

77 F.3d 1235 (10th Cir. 1996)

Ryan M. PATTON and Kathy Patton Strunk,

Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross-Appellants,

v.

TIC UNITED CORP., a Delaware corporation,

Defendant-Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

Implant Device Education Association; The Wichita Area

Support Group for the Survivors of Silicone Breast Implants;

Kansas Trial Lawyers Association; Colorado Trial Lawyers

Association; Defense Research Institute, Inc.; Product

Liability Advisory Council, Inc., Amici Curiae.

Nos. 94-3296, 94-3297.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

February 16, 1996

Page 1236

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1237

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1238

Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Kansas (D.Ct. No. 91-2331-JWL).

Hildy Bowbeer (George W. Soule and Cortney G. Sylvester, with her on the brief), Bowman & Brooke, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

Gary D. McCallister (Brenda L. Head, with him on the brief), Davis, Unrein, Hummer, McCallister & Buck, Topeka, Kansas, and Jerry R. Palmer (L.J. Leatherman, with him on the brief), Palmer & Lowry, Topeka, Kansas, for Appellees/Cross-Appellants.

Andrew Oswald, Oswald, Oswald & Associates, Hutchison, Kansas, and Leland P. Anderson, Sears Anderson & Swanson, Denver, Colorado, for amici curiae Kansas Trial Lawyers Ass'n and Colorado Trial Lawyers Ass'n.

Mark B. Hutton, Wichita, Kansas, for amici curiae Implant Device Education Ass'n and Wichita Area Support Group for the Survivors of Silicone Breast Implants.

Kevin M. Reynolds and Richard J. Kirschman, Whitfield & Eddy, P.L.C., Des Moines, Iowa, for amicus curiae Defense Research Institute, Inc.

Hugh F. Young, Jr., Reston, Virginia, Kenneth S. Geller and H. Thomas Byron III, Mayer, Brown & Platt, Washington, D.C., for amicus curiae Product Liability Advisory Council, Inc.

Before LUCERO and MURPHY, Circuit Judges, and JENKINS [*], District Judge.

Page 1239

LUCERO, Circuit Judge.

We review appeals from a final judgment in a products liability diversity action. The defendant appeals the jury verdict against it as well as the court's imposition of punitive damages. The plaintiffs, by cross-appeal, challenge the district court's application of a Kansas damage cap, Kan.Stat.Ann. § 60-19a02, to reduce the jury's award of noneconomic damages. We affirm.

I.

Ryan Patton was raised on his family's farm in Hiawatha, Kansas. His father purchased a Wil-Rich vertical wing cultivator in 1977. The 23-foot-wide cultivator has two eight-foot-long wings which can be lifted to a 90-degree angle and locked in position for ease of transport or storage. The wings are lowered for use. A hydraulic system is used to lift, lower, or steady the wings. Manually-inserted safety pins lock the wings in an upright position. When the pins are removed, hydraulic pressure alone keeps the 2000-pound wings erect.

Patton knew how to replace the hydraulic cylinder used to raise and lower the wings of the cultivator. When first attached, a new hydraulic cylinder is not charged. To insure that the cylinder will support a wing, the operator must cycle the machine to make sure that the hydraulic system is fully charged before removing the safety pin. The operating instructions did not state how to insure that the hydraulic system was properly charged or warn that the wings should not be in an upright position when replacing the cylinder. The only warning on the machine relating to the hydraulic wings read: "Pull wing pins before lowering wings."

In April, 1990 Patton and Kenneth Clements, a farm employee, set out to change the hydraulic cylinder on the cultivator. Because the day was cool and rainy, the pair decided to work inside the machine shed. The shed was too small to permit the wings to be fully lowered while changing the cylinder. Clements attached a new cylinder to the mainframe and hydraulic lines. Patton retracted the cylinder to make sure that the wings were fully raised. He then pulled the hydraulic lever for several more seconds, believing that this would fully charge the hydraulic cylinder. Unaware that the cylinder was in fact not completely charged, he stood under the wing and attempted to pull the wing pin. He encountered pressure or "binding" on the pin, as he had many times before. Although he knew that one possible cause of binding was that the cylinder was not charged, he had no way to verify his belief that he had fully charged the cylinder. He pushed up on the wing and pulled the pin. The wing fell, pinned Patton to the ground, and severed his spine.

The cultivator that injured Patton was manufactured by Wil-Rich, Inc., at its factory in Wahpeton, North Dakota. Between 1981 and 1987 the assets and stock of Wil-Rich were transferred among a number of entities through merger, acquisition, and reorganization. In 1987, a wholly owned subsidiary of defendant TIC United Corp. (TIC) purchased the assets, business, goodwill and trade name of the former Wil-Rich, Inc. The subsidiary merged with its parent, TIC, in 1993. TIC continued to operate the Wahpeton facility and market cultivators under the name "Wil-Rich."

Plaintiffs sued TIC and various of its predecessors in federal district court, alleging that the original design was defective because it encouraged operators to stand under the cultivator wing when they removed the safety pin, making it likely that they would be severely injured in the event of hydraulic failure. They also argued that, as a successor to the Wil-Rich, Inc. product line, TIC incurred various duties when it learned of accidents of the type that injured Patton.

The district court certified four questions to the Kansas Supreme Court regarding the extent to which Kansas recognizes a manufacturer's post-sale duties to retrofit, recall, or warn of known defects in its products. See Patton v. Hutchinson Wil-Rich Mfg. Co., 253 Kan. 741, 861 P.2d 1299, 1303-04 (1993) ("Patton I "). The Kansas high court recognized a manufacturer's post-sale duty to warn "ultimate consumers who purchased the product who can be readily identified or traced when a defect, which originated at the time the product was manufactured and was

Page 1240

unforeseeable at the point of sale, is discovered to present a life threatening hazard." Id. 861 P.2d at 1313.

All defendants except TIC settled with the plaintiffs and were dropped from the lawsuit before the case went to the jury. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs. It attributed two percent of the fault for the accident to Patton, two and one half percent to his father, eighteen and one half percent to Lear Siegler, corporate successor to the original manufacturer, and seventy-six percent to TIC. The jury also attributed one percent of the fault to an entity that had briefly owned the Wil-Rich assets. The jury found that Patton had suffered economic damages in the form of future medical expenses totaling $850,501, and that Patton and his mother had incurred medical and renovation expenses of $142,572.17. The jury also found that Patton had suffered noneconomic damages in the amount of $752,781. Pursuant to Kansas' statute capping liability for noneconomic damages in personal injury cases, Kan.Stat.Ann. § 60-19a02(b), the court reduced Patton's award for noneconomic damages to $250,000. The court also entered judgment against TIC for seventy-six percent of the economic damages award. After a hearing, the district court assessed punitive damages against TIC in the amount of $1,000,000. Patton v. TIC United Corp., 859 F.Supp. 509 (D.Kan.1994) ("Patton II "). Patton's motion to reinstate the full jury award of noneconomic damages was denied, as were TIC's motions for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial. TIC then appealed and Patton cross-appealed.

II.

TIC's arguments on appeal follow three separate themes: First, the district court should have granted TIC judgment as a matter of law because it had no duty to warn plaintiffs about the cultivator or, alternatively, because the failure to warn was not the proximate cause of Patton's injuries. Second, the district court should have granted its motion for a new trial because the jury's verdict attributing seventy-six percent of fault to TIC was not supported by evidence. Finally, the district court's award of punitive damages was unsupported by evidence and violated due process.

We review de novo the denial of a motion for judgment as a matter of law under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50. Sheets v. Salt Lake County, 45 F.3d 1383, 1387 (10th Cir.1995). We will reverse if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, along with all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, points only towards a verdict for the moving party. Id. We review the district court's denial of a motion for a new trial for abuse of discretion. Id. at 1390.

A.

TIC first argues that it had no duty to warn Patton of any dangers because, under Kansas law, a post-sale duty to warn applies only to the manufacturer of the specific cultivator that injured Patton. We review the district court's interpretation of Kansas law de novo. Salve Regina College v. Russell, 499 U.S. 225, 231, 111 S.Ct. 1217, 1220, 113 L.Ed.2d 190 (1991).

In Patton I, the Kansas Supreme Court addressed the post-sale duties of a product's original manufacturer. The court limited its discussion to the certified questions before it, Patton I, 861 P.2d at 1306...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP