915 F.2d 764 (1st Cir. 1990), 90-1177, Phav v. Trueblood, Inc.

Docket Nº:90-1177.
Citation:915 F.2d 764
Party Name:Chat PHAV, Plaintiff, Appellee, v. TRUEBLOOD, INC., Defendant, Appellant.
Case Date:September 28, 1990
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Page 764

915 F.2d 764 (1st Cir. 1990)

Chat PHAV, Plaintiff, Appellee,


TRUEBLOOD, INC., Defendant, Appellant.

No. 90-1177.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 28, 1990

Heard Aug. 2, 1990.

Page 765

D. Alice Olsen, with whom Lee Stephen MacPhee, Thomas M. Elcock and Morrison, Mahoney and Miller were on brief, for appellant.

Robert J. Doyle, with whom Kehoe, Doyle, Playter and Novick, Edward J. Santella, Kathleen M. Curley and the Office of Edward J. Santella were on brief, for appellee.

Before TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge, BOWNES, Senior Circuit Judge, and CYR, Circuit Judge.

BOWNES, Senior Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Chat Phav lost the ends of two fingers in an accident at his place of work while operating a machine manufactured by defendant Trueblood, Inc. Phav, a Massachusetts resident, sued Trueblood, an Ohio corporation, in federal district court on the basis of diversity, claiming negligence and breach of implied warranty of merchantability under Massachusetts law. 1

At trial, the judge submitted the case to the jury on special questions. Five categories of questions were submitted to the jury: 1. Negligence (Design and Manufacture); 2. Negligence (Warning and Instructions); 3. Contributory Negligence; 4. Breach of Warranty; and 5. Damages. The jury found that the defendant was negligent in its design or manufacture of the machine and in its failure to provide adequate warnings or instructions about its use. It also found that the conduct of the plaintiff's employer, either standing alone or in combination with any negligence of the plaintiff, was the "sole proximate cause" of plaintiff's injuries. In answer to the breach of warranty questions, the jury found that the defendant breached its warranty to Phav and that the breach "proximately caused" his injuries. It awarded plaintiff $5,000 in damages, which was the exact amount of plaintiff's medical expenses as stipulated by the parties.

Plaintiff sought a new trial on the issue of damages, which defendant opposed. The district court allowed plaintiff's motion, ruling as follows:

The jury's parsimonious award of damages was outside the universe of possible awards once the jury had found the evidence sufficient to support liability; there being no indication of a compromise verdict, see generally Mekdeci v. Merrell Nat. Labs., 711 F.2d 1510, 1513-1515 (11th Cir.1983), the new trial will be limited to the question of damages.

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After retrial on damages, a second jury awarded plaintiff $370,000.

Defendant appeals on the ground that the district court abused its discretion in granting a new trial on damages alone. It contends that the $5,000 award was not "outside the universe of possible awards" and therefore did not constitute grounds for a new trial. Alternatively, it argues that even if the district court could have found the $5,000 award inadequate, it should have ordered a new trial on liability as well as damages because there were sufficient indicia that the award resulted from a compromise verdict on liability. One of these indicia, defendant contends, was confusion of the jury as to the issue of causation generated by the district court's formulation of the special questions.


A verdict may be set aside and new trial ordered "when the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, or is based upon evidence which is false, or will result in a clear miscarriage of justice." Torres-Troche v. Municipality of Yauco, 873 F.2d 499 (1st Cir.1989) (quoting Coffran v. Hitchcock Clinic, Inc., 683 F.2d 5, 6 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1087, 103 S.Ct. 571, 74 L.Ed.2d 933 (1982)). Although the district court's discretion in disposing of a motion for new trial is not unlimited, its decision will not be disturbed on appeal absent clear abuse of that discretion. Velez VDA. De Perez v. Hospital del Maestro, 910 F.2d 1004, 1008 (1st Cir.1990); Freeman v. Package Mach. Co., 865 F.2d 1331, 1334 (1st Cir.1988). An inadequate damages award may constitute sufficient reason for a new trial. Mekdeci v. Merrell Nat'l Labs., 711 F.2d 1510, 1513 (11th Cir.1983).

Plaintiff's Damages Evidence

Plaintiff introduced evidence on three types of damages: medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost earning capacity.

As to the first, the parties stipulated that plaintiff's medical expenses were $5,000.

As to the second, plaintiff sought to show pain and suffering through his own testimony, the testimony of his physician, and that of a friend. Through a translator, Phav testified that he immigrated to the United States from Cambodia in 1981, and, at the time of his accident was working at Cable Systems, Inc. in Everett, Massachusetts. His job was to operate a machine...

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