Kennedy v. U.S. Const. Co.

Decision Date02 December 1976
Docket NumberNo. 76-1329,76-1329
Citation545 F.2d 81
PartiesPhil KENNEDY, Appellant, v. U. S. CONSTRUCTION COMPANY and W. E. Sanders Construction Company, Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Hobbs & Longinotti, Hot Springs, Ark., for appellant.

Overton S. Anderson, Smith Williams, Friday, Eldredge & Clark, Little Rock, Ark., for appellees.

Before GIBSON, Chief Judge, and HEANEY and HENLEY, Circuit Judges.

HENLEY, Circuit Judge.

Phil Kennedy, plaintiff-appellant, appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas (The Honorable Oren Harris, District Judge) dismissing plaintiff's personal injury suit against U. S. Construction Company and W. E. Sanders Construction Company. The judgment was entered after the district court had instructed a jury verdict in favor of the defendants at the conclusion of plaintiff's evidence.

In passing upon the defendants' motion for a directed verdict the district court was required to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, to give the plaintiff the benefit of all inferences in his favor reasonably to be drawn from the evidence, and to deny the motion unless the evidence was so one-sided as to leave no room for any reasonable difference of opinion as to how the case should be decided factually.

The background facts of the case are simple and relatively undisputed. In May, 1972 the defendant, U. S. Construction Company, was the prime contractor engaged in the building of an apartment complex in or near the City of Little Rock, Arkansas. The defendant, W. E. Sanders Construction Company, was the principal subcontractor on the job, and Archie Cullipher had a subcontract under Sanders for framing work which involved the sawing of lumber. Plaintiff was an employee of Cullipher and was covered by workmen's compensation insurance provided by Cullipher's workmen's compensation insurance carrier.

The accident occurred on May 19, 1972. For several months prior to the accident plaintiff had been using in his work for Cullipher a radial saw that had been loaned gratuitously to Cullipher by Sanders. The saw was mounted on a table and was located at a work site somewhat removed from the place at which the main body of the construction work was being carried on. The work site was under the exclusive control of Cullipher, and it was the responsibility of either Cullipher or plaintiff to clean up the site and to remove debris which might accumulate under or around the table on which the saw was placed and which resulted from the operation of the saw. Apparently, Cullipher thought that it was the duty of the plaintiff to remove the debris whereas plaintiff seems to have considered that he had no responsibility in that connection.

The saw was not defective. As we read the record, there was a guard over the top of the saw but no guard on the underside of it. Plaintiff was familiar with the saw and its operation, and he knew that there was no guard on the underside. He also knew that the saw was potentially dangerous, and in fact plaintiff considers that any saw, including an ordinary hand saw, is dangerous.

About nine days before the accident occurred a Safety Consultant employed by the Arkansas Department of Labor inspected the construction that was going on and noted that there was no guard on the underside of the saw. He considered the condition to be unsafe and served a written notice of his finding on the prime contractor and probably on Sanders. It is not clear whether Cullipher or the plaintiff was aware of the inspection prior to the accident.

The accident occurred in substantially the following manner. Plaintiff had just finished sawing a board and had turned away from the saw to pick up another board leaving the saw in operation; in the course of his movement plaintiff lost his footing when he stepped on a piece of debris under the table on which the saw was located. He threw out his hand toward the underside of the table to check his fall; when he did that, his hand came in contact with the moving blade of the saw, and two of his fingers were cut to the extent that they had to be amputated.

Plaintiff collected workmen's compensation under the provisions of the Arkansas Workmen's Compensation Act, and then commenced this third party tort feasor action as authorized by Ark.Stats.Ann. § 81-1340.

Plaintiff alleged in his complaint that the respective defendants had been negligent in failing to provide him with a safe place to work and safe appliances with which to work and in failing to warn him about the dangerous condition of the saw.

The defendants in their answer denied negligence and took issue with plaintiff as to the amount of damages that he had sustained as a result of his injury. Affirmatively, the defendants pleaded contributory negligence and assumption of risk.

It appears that prior to the trial plaintiff had planned to call as a witness Mr. Ron Burnett, the Labor Department Safety Consultant, for the purpose of proving that the absence of a guard over the underside of the saw constituted a violation of the Arkansas Labor Department Act of 1937, Ark.Stats.Ann. §§ 81-101 et seq. However, in proceedings in limine the district court held that Mr. Burnett would not be permitted to testify as to any violation of the Act, perhaps because of the fact that the Act applies only as between employers and their own employees, and plaintiff was not an employee of either of the defendants when he was injured. See Horn v. Shirley, 246 Ark. 1134, 441 S.W.2d 468 (1969). Burnett was permitted to testify that in his opinion as an expert the saw without the guard was dangerous, and that a manufacturer would be expected to equip his saws with proper guards.

After Burnett testified, plaintiff called his employer, Cullipher, as a witness and then took the stand himself. Thereafter plaintiff rested and the defendants moved for a directed verdict contending that there was no substantial evidence of negligence on the part of the defendants, and that the evidence established that as a matter of law the plaintiff was guilty of negligence that was equal to or greater than the negligence, if any, of the defendants, and that plaintiff had assumed the risk of injury.

The district court heard arguments on the motions and then announced that the motion would be granted. Before announcing its ruling the district court discussed the evidence in some detail. While the trial judge commented on the conduct of the plaintiff and on the fact that he was familiar with the saw and knew that it was dangerous, the district court did not find specifically that the plaintiff had been guilty of negligence or that he had assumed the risk of injury. As we characterize the district court's holding, it was based on the...

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