Bredberg v. Pepsico, Inc., No. 94-1046

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtConsidered by McGIVERIN; McGIVERIN
Citation551 N.W.2d 321
PartiesProd.Liab.Rep. (CCH) P 14,705 Michael BREDBERG, Appellee, v. PEPSICO, INC., A Corporation, and Pepsi Cola General Bottlers, Inc., a Corporation, Appellants, Joyce's Incorporated d/b/a Joyce's Food Land, Defendant.
Docket NumberNo. 94-1046
Decision Date24 July 1996

Page 321

551 N.W.2d 321
Prod.Liab.Rep. (CCH) P 14,705
Michael BREDBERG, Appellee,
v.
PEPSICO, INC., A Corporation, and Pepsi Cola General Bottlers, Inc., a Corporation, Appellants,
Joyce's Incorporated d/b/a Joyce's Food Land, Defendant.
No. 94-1046.
Supreme Court of Iowa.
July 24, 1996.
Rehearing Denied Sept. 13, 1996.

Page 322

Mark A. Woollums and Martha L. Shaff of Betty, Neuman & McMahon, L.L.P., Davenport, for appellant PepsiCo, Inc.

Dawn R. Siebert of Finley, Alt, Smith, Scharnberg, May & Craig, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant Pepsi Cola General Bottlers, Inc.

Richard B. Maher, Glenwood, for appellee.

Page 323

Considered by McGIVERIN, C.J., and LARSON, CARTER, SNELL, and ANDREASEN, JJ.

McGIVERIN, Chief Justice.

The issue before us on further review is whether plaintiff Michael Bredberg presented substantial evidence at trial that either defendant PepsiCo, Inc., or defendant Pepsi Cola General Bottlers, Inc., was strictly liable for injuries he sustained when a glass bottle of soda pop he purchased shattered. The jury believed so, and the district court did not disturb the jury's verdicts in ruling on defendants' motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and new trial. The court of appeals reversed this decision. As we believe a jury question was generated by plaintiff's evidence, we vacate the court of appeals decision and affirm the district court's judgment in favor of plaintiff.

I. Background facts and proceedings. On Sunday, July 22, 1990, Michael Bredberg and others went to defendant Joyce's Food Land grocery store in Laurens to purchase various items for a cookout. After exiting the store, at about 1:45 on a warm afternoon, Bredberg informed the persons he was with that he was "going to get a pop." Outside the store, there were three soft drink vending machines. One machine, which had the "Pepsi" logo on the outside, contained sixteen ounce glass bottles of various flavored soda pops. One of the young men with whom Bredberg went to the grocery store requested he purchase a "Mountain Dew" for him. When Bredberg reached the soda pop machines, he noticed Mountain Dew was not available but "Diet Mountain Dew" was. Therefore, Bredberg proceeded to purchase one Diet Mountain Dew bottle from the machine.

After inserting change into the machine, Bredberg pushed the Diet Mountain Dew button. At the time he did this, he stepped to his right to view the contents of the soda pop machine located directly to the right of the machine in which he deposited money and selected a Diet Mountain Dew. Bredberg deposited money in this machine and selected a soda pop of his choice.

After purchasing his soda pop, Bredberg stepped back over to the vending machine from which he selected the Diet Mountain Dew. According to plaintiff, the following events transpired:

... I didn't see the bottle anywhere around so I ... bent down and lifted up the thing and [saw] the bottle.... [I]t had come down on its neck and was wedged into the left hand side of the machine, so then I reached in there and ... pulled the bottle out.

....

I had the bottle [of Diet Mountain Dew] in my right hand by the neck. I put it in my left hand where it started to get fat and I turned around to walk over to the other machine. It started slipping out, so I slid down on the bottle for a better grip ... and caught it ... and that's when it exploded.

The alleged explosion of the Diet Mountain Dew glass bottle caused severe and permanent injuries to Bredberg's left hand. At the time of the accident, Bredberg was approximately six feet tall and fifteen years old. There were no other eye witnesses to the alleged explosion.

Due to the accident and his resulting permanent injuries, Bredberg brought an action at law against Joyce's Food Land, PepsiCo, Inc. (PepsiCo), and Pepsi Cola General Bottlers, Inc. (Pepsi Cola). 1 In the petition, Bredberg brought numerous claims against the named defendants including that PepsiCo and Pepsi Cola were strictly liable for his injuries and resulting damages on products liability grounds. Bredberg also claimed

Page 324

Joyce's Food Land was responsible for his injuries and resulting damages on grounds of negligence.

The defendants denied all claims made against them and the case proceeded to a jury trial. The particular bottle that Bredberg claimed exploded was not available for examination by the jury or analysis by any of the expert witnesses. The broken bottle had been swept up and thrown away after the accident.

Dr. Thomas D. McGee, a professor of materials science and engineering at Iowa State University, testified on behalf of the plaintiff as an expert on carbonated beverage bottles and their breakage. 2 Among other things, Dr. McGee testified that the breaking of the bottle was a spontaneous explosion based on the plaintiff's explanation and the physical evidence including the final location of the bottle fragments. He also testified that the physical evidence supports the conclusion that the plaintiff was holding the bottle when it broke.

Even though the bottle could not be produced for examination and analysis, defendants did not dispute that Bredberg had been injured by a bottle which (for some reason) shattered after he purchased it from the vending machine located outside of the grocery store. Defendants vigorously disputed Bredberg's claim, however, that the bottle had exploded. They contended, instead, that Bredberg dropped the bottle and injured his left hand while trying to catch the bottle before it hit the ground and shattered upon impact.

Defendants elicited expert opinion testimony from Dr. Ronald Caporali, a Ph.D. in ceramic science, who serves as an independent consultant in glass fracture and fracture analysis. Dr. Caporali opined that the Diet Mountain Dew bottle broke due to an impact fracture, as opposed to a pressure fracture as opined by Dr. McGee. Dr. Caporali's testimony, in addition to lay witness testimony, supports defendants' contention that Bredberg dropped the bottle and the resulting impact with the ground caused the bottle to shatter.

At the close of plaintiff's case-in-chief and again at the close of all the evidence, defendants PepsiCo and Pepsi Cola each made a motion for a directed verdict. See Iowa R.Civ.P. 216. In its motion, PepsiCo contended a verdict should be directed in its favor because Bredberg did not present sufficient evidence that the bottle of Diet Mountain Dew was unreasonably dangerous or in a defective condition at the time it entered the stream of commerce:

... Plaintiff has not submitted a jury case on the issues of defective condition [or] unreasonably dangerous condition.... There is no evidence ... that the bottle was manufactured and distributed according to design standards dictated by PepsiCo, Inc.... We do not have this bottle, [and] we do not know who manufactured it.

In its motion for directed verdict, Pepsi Cola also contended there was not sufficient evidence to submit Bredberg's strict liability claim against it to the jury:

[T]here is absolutely no evidence in this case that the bottle in question was in a defective condition ... at the time of sale. Without that element, evidence of a defective condition at the time of sale, the plaintiff's claim for products liability against Pepsi Cola ... must fail.

....

Furthermore, there is no evidence that the product itself, the bottle, or anything about the contents thereof, was unreasonably dangerous.

The court overruled the motions and submitted the case to the jury for deliberations. The court instructed the jury that in order to find defendants PepsiCo or Pepsi Cola responsible for Bredberg's injuries under a theory of strict liability, a preponderance of the evidence must show, among other things, that:

....

3. The Diet Mountain Dew bottled soda was in a defective condition at the time it

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left defendants' control in one or more of the following ways:

a. In that it exploded in plaintiff's hand.

4. The defective condition was unreasonably dangerous to the plaintiff.

....

See Fell v. Kewanee Farm Equip. Co., 457 N.W.2d 911, 916 (Iowa 1990); Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A (1965); II Iowa Civ. Jury Instructions 1000.1 (1991). 3

The jury returned a special verdict in favor of Bredberg, setting his total damages at $112,134.70. The jury assessed fault between the parties as follows:

 Michael Bredberg 50%
                 Joyce's Food Land 5%
                 Pepsi Cola 25%
                 PepsiCo 20%.
                

See Iowa Code § 668.3(2) (1993). The court entered judgment on the verdict reducing the total award by the amount of plaintiff's comparative fault (or fifty percent) to $56,067.35.

In response to the verdicts, PepsiCo and Pepsi Cola each filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and, in the alternative, new trial. Iowa R.Civ.P. 243, 244(f). Joyce's Food Land did not file post-trial motions or an appeal from the judgment. Bredberg resisted the motions.

PepsiCo's and Pepsi Cola's motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict necessarily must rest on the same grounds as articulated at trial in their motions for directed verdict, outlined above. See Wieseler v. Sisters of Mercy Health Corp., 540 N.W.2d 445, 448 (Iowa 1995). Their alternative motions for new trial were premised on their belief that the verdict reached by the jury was a compromise or "quotient" verdict and, therefore, was inconsistent with the facts and law and did not effectuate substantial justice. See Iowa R.Civ.P. 244(f).

The district court overruled PepsiCo's and Pepsi Cola's motions. In its ruling on the motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, the court found plaintiff's testimony along with the testimony of Dr. McGee to constitute sufficient evidence to submit Bredberg's strict liability claims against PepsiCo and Pepsi Cola to the jury.

In its ruling on the alternative motions for new trial, the court found the jury's verdict did not fail to effectuate substantial justice as the facts were in...

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34 practice notes
  • Ebenhoech v. Koppers Industries, Inc., No. 00-5641(JBS).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Jersey
    • December 24, 2002
    ...they must be stricken and defendant's motion to strike is granted to this limited extent. 19. See also Bredberg v. Pepsico, Inc., 551 N.W.2d 321, 329 (Iowa 1996) (stating that when bottle explodes, "defect is so obvious as to warrant little or no discussion"); Van Duzer v. Shoshone Coca Col......
  • Johnson v. American Leather Specialties Corp., No. C06-3073-MWB.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
    • September 29, 2008
    ...Corp., 721 N.W.2d 159, 162 (Iowa 2006); Weyerhaeuser Co. v. Thermogas Co., 620 N.W.2d 819, 824-27 (Iowa 2000); Bredberg v. Pepsico, Inc., 551 N.W.2d 321, 327-28 (Iowa 1996). With respect to § 613.18(1)(b), the Iowa Supreme Court has explained Paragraph 613.18(1)(b) limits strict liability a......
  • Huck v. Wyeth, Inc., No. 12–0596.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • July 11, 2014
    ...profited from its sale of the generic formulation that harmed Huck. We reject Huck's argument based on Bredberg v. PepsiCo, Inc., 551 N.W.2d 321 (Iowa 1996). Huck relies on Bredberg to argue Iowa law permits liability on a party who designs, but does not manufacture or sell, the product tha......
  • State v. Atley, No. 95-1133
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 18, 1997
    ...246 N.W.2d 335, 338 (Iowa 1976). We review a denial of a motion for new trial for abuse of discretion. Bredberg v. Pepsico, Inc., 551 N.W.2d 321, 326 (Iowa 1996). In order to show an abuse of discretion, one generally must show the court exercised its discretion " 'on grounds or for reasons......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
34 cases
  • Ebenhoech v. Koppers Industries, Inc., No. 00-5641(JBS).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Jersey
    • December 24, 2002
    ...they must be stricken and defendant's motion to strike is granted to this limited extent. 19. See also Bredberg v. Pepsico, Inc., 551 N.W.2d 321, 329 (Iowa 1996) (stating that when bottle explodes, "defect is so obvious as to warrant little or no discussion"); Van Duzer v. Shoshone Coca Col......
  • Johnson v. American Leather Specialties Corp., No. C06-3073-MWB.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
    • September 29, 2008
    ...Corp., 721 N.W.2d 159, 162 (Iowa 2006); Weyerhaeuser Co. v. Thermogas Co., 620 N.W.2d 819, 824-27 (Iowa 2000); Bredberg v. Pepsico, Inc., 551 N.W.2d 321, 327-28 (Iowa 1996). With respect to § 613.18(1)(b), the Iowa Supreme Court has explained Paragraph 613.18(1)(b) limits strict liability a......
  • Huck v. Wyeth, Inc., No. 12–0596.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • July 11, 2014
    ...profited from its sale of the generic formulation that harmed Huck. We reject Huck's argument based on Bredberg v. PepsiCo, Inc., 551 N.W.2d 321 (Iowa 1996). Huck relies on Bredberg to argue Iowa law permits liability on a party who designs, but does not manufacture or sell, the product tha......
  • State v. Atley, No. 95-1133
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 18, 1997
    ...246 N.W.2d 335, 338 (Iowa 1976). We review a denial of a motion for new trial for abuse of discretion. Bredberg v. Pepsico, Inc., 551 N.W.2d 321, 326 (Iowa 1996). In order to show an abuse of discretion, one generally must show the court exercised its discretion " 'on grounds or for reasons......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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