McInnis v. A.M.F., Inc., Nos. 84-1657

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore BREYER and ALDRICH; PETTINE
Citation84 A.L.R.Fed. 259,765 F.2d 240
Docket Number84-1658,Nos. 84-1657
Decision Date23 July 1985
Parties, 18 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 607 Patricia J. McINNIS, Plaintiff, Appellee, v. A.M.F., INC., et al., Defendants, Appellants. Patricia J. McINNIS, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. A.M.F., INC., et al., Defendants, Appellees.

Page 240

765 F.2d 240
84 A.L.R.Fed. 259, 18 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 607
Patricia J. McINNIS, Plaintiff, Appellee,
v.
A.M.F., INC., et al., Defendants, Appellants.
Patricia J. McINNIS, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
A.M.F., INC., et al., Defendants, Appellees.
Nos. 84-1657, 84-1658.
United States Court of Appeals,
First Circuit.
Argued Feb. 5, 1985.
Decided June 13, 1985.
Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied July 23, 1985.

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Gerald C. DeMaria, Providence, R.I., with whom Robert J. Quigley, Jr. and Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney, Providence, R.I., were on brief for A.M.F., Inc.

Martin W. Aisenberg, Providence, R.I., for Patricia McInnis.

Before BREYER and ALDRICH, Circuit Judges, and PETTINE, * Senior District Judge.

PETTINE, Senior District Judge.

The plaintiff in a products liability action here appeals a jury verdict in favor of the defendants. The plaintiff, Patricia McInnis, sued the defendants A.M.F., Inc. and Harley-Davidson, alleging that she had sustained an amputating injury to her left leg due to the defective design of a motorcycle sold by the defendants. The plaintiff now seeks reversal of the jury's verdict, asserting that the district court judge made a number of rulings during the trial which constituted prejudicial error. The defendants have also filed a cross appeal challenging the trial court's denial of their motion for a directed verdict. The most compelling issues presented by this appeal are first, whether the trial court erred in admitting certain evidence that the plaintiff had consumed alcohol prior to her debilitating accident and second, whether the court erred in admitting, as relevant to the issue of causation, evidence of the plaintiff's settlement with a third party joint tortfeasor. 1

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We find that the trial court erred with respect to the second evidentiary ruling, and that the error was sufficiently prejudicial to warrant a new trial.
BACKGROUND

This case arose out of a motorcycle/automobile accident that occurred on April 16, 1982 at the intersection of Route 146A and Main Street in North Smithfield, Rhode Island. At approximately 3 p.m., the plaintiff, Patricia McInnis, was driving a Harley-Davidson motorcycle southbound on Route 146A. An automobile driven by Florence Poirier was approaching northbound toward the plaintiff on the same road. At the time McInnis entered the intersection, Poirier was apparently preparing to make a left turn onto Main Street; the car's left turn signal was on and the vehicle was moving very slowly toward the yellow line. As the plaintiff proceeded through the intersection, Poirier turned left, striking the left side of the motorcycle. 2 After the impact, the motorcycle "fishtailed" for a short distance while the plaintiff apparently attempted to regain control, before it fell on its side. As a result of this accident, McInnis' left leg was almost completely severed at the ankle. Due to the extensive damage to the limb, the plaintiff's doctor amputated it below the knee.

Shortly after the accident, Patricia McInnis filed an insurance claim against Mrs. Poirier through her liability insurance carrier Aetna Casualty and Surety Company. In November of 1981, McInnis settled her claim by executing a general release explicitly releasing Florence Poirier from liability for the August 16 accident. 3 In exchange for the release, McInnis received $60,000, which was the extent of Mrs. Poirier's insurance coverage.

On June 28, 1982, the plaintiff filed suit against A.M.F., Inc., and its wholly owned subsidiary Harley-Davidson Motor Company, Inc., the manufacturers of the motorcycle Miss McInnis had been driving at the time of the accident. She asserted that the defendants were liable for her injuries on theories of negligent design of the motorcycle's clutch housing, negligent failure to warn, and strict products liability. Specifically, plaintiff claimed that when Poirier

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struck her motorcycle, it fell on its left side where the clutch housing is located. When it fell, she argued, the clutch housing shattered, exposing her leg to the sharp jagged edges and whirring gears which caused the almost complete severance of her limb. A.M.F. and Harley-Davidson defended the action in part on the theory that the plaintiff's severe injury was actually and immediately caused by the impact with the bumper of the Poirier vehicle, and had already occurred before the motorcycle fell.

Prior to trial, the defendants moved the court to enter summary judgment in their favor. They argued that under Rhode Island law, the general release executed by the plaintiff had not only the effect of releasing Mrs. Poirier, but of releasing all joint tortfeasors as well. Concomitantly, there would be no material facts to be resolved by a jury. The trial judge withheld ruling on the motion pending a jury verdict.

From a reading of the transcript, the evidence presented at trial focused on two major issues. The first was the issue of causation--specifically whether it was the impact with the Poirier vehicle or the shattering of the motorcycle clutch housing that in fact caused the amputating injury to plaintiff's leg. The second issue was whether the defendants' motorcycle, the Harley-Davidson Super Glide, was uncrashworthy and as such, negligently designed. As we shall discuss at greater length later in this opinion, the trial transcript is replete with evidence on these issues presented by both parties to the litigation. The plaintiff and the defendants presented the testimony of medical experts, accident reconstructionists, engineers, and eye witnesses. Their attorneys vigorously argued their respective positions. Having heard the evidence and the arguments and having been instructed in the law by the trial judge, the jury returned a general verdict, without the aid of interrogatories, in favor of the defendants.

Upon entry of the verdict, the attorneys for the defendants moved for a directed verdict. Their motion was premised on the identical legal argument they had advanced in support of their previous motion for summary judgment--that as a matter of law, the plaintiff's general release of Mrs. Poirier likewise released the defendants as joint tortfeasors. Apparently because the jury had found for the defendants, the trial judge denied the motion on the ground that it was moot.

OUR REVIEW

We shall first address the propriety of the trial court's evidentiary rulings and whether any error which might have been committed constitutes grounds for a new trial.

A. Admission of Evidence of Drinking

The plaintiff alleges that the trial court committed prejudicial error in permitting the defendants to introduce evidence that the plaintiff had consumed alcoholic beverages on the day of the accident. On January 20, 1984, one month before the trial began, the plaintiff filed a motion in limine to bar the defendants from introducing such evidence. In support of its motion, the plaintiff invoked the Rhode Island Supreme Court's decision in Handy v. Geary, 105 R.I. 419, 252 A.2d 435 (2969), which held that it is prejudicial error for a trial court to admit evidence of drinking to prove negligence in the absence of evidence of actual intoxication. Id., 252 A.2d at 441. Handy prescribed a procedure whereby the judge would be required to conduct an evidentiary hearing on the issue of intoxication in the absence of the jury before he could admit evidence of mere consumption of alcohol. Id. at 442.

At the time plaintiff filed its motion in limine, the defendants offered no evidence of either drinking or intoxication. Accordingly, the trial court granted the motion. Trial Transcript, p. 23. During their cross examination of Patricia McInnis at trial, however, defense counsel attempted to question her as to whether she had consumed three beers prior to the motorcycle crash. The line of inquiry was based on Massachusetts General Hospital's records of plaintiff's admission on the day of the

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accident. According to the records, the plaintiff had reported drinking three beers that day, and that she had eaten nothing since the previous evening. The plaintiff's attorney objected to the question on the basis of the court's prior ruling on the motion in limine.

The trial judge reversed his previous ruling and allowed the defendants' line of questioning. He found that the medical reports, standing alone, furnished sufficient evidence to permit reasonable jurors to find the plaintiff was intoxicated as defined in Handy v. Geary. 4 In the alternative, the Court noted that if the federal rather than the state rule were controlling, the evidence would still be admissible under Fed.Rule of Evid. 403, since its probative value was not outweighed by its potential prejudicial effect. Trial Transcript, p. 292-93.

The plaintiff appeals this ruling on two grounds. First, she argues that the trial judge was obligated to follow both the substantive and procedural standards set forth in Handy v. Geary. She claims that the judge's failure to hold a full evidentiary hearing on the issue of intoxication was therefore error. In addition, the plaintiff indicates that Handy requires independent evidence of intoxication, beyond the fact of drinking, before the trial judge may submit the issue to the jury. She claims that because there was no such evidence in this case, admission of the evidence of drinking was improper as a matter of law. Second, the plaintiff's attorneys assert that the trial court prejudiced McInnis by reversing its original ruling on the motion in limine after they had concluded their direct examination of her. They assert that they had deliberately refrained from raising the issue of alcohol in reliance on the ruling. By allowing defense counsel to bring out those facts for the first time on cross-examination, they argue, the trial judge committed prejudicial error since the testimony heard in that context would inevitably convey an impression to the jury that...

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101 practice notes
  • Stecher v. Ford Motor Co.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • May 8, 2001
    ...of at least 20 states either have adopted this approach explicitly or expressed a consistent rationale. See McInnis v. A.M.F., Inc., 765 F.2d 240 (1st Cir.1985) (predicting Rhode Island law); Shipp v. General Motors Corp., 750 F.2d 418 (5th Cir.1985) (predicting Texas law); McLeod v. Americ......
  • In re Dow Corning Corp., Bankruptcy No. 95-20512.
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Tenth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Eastern District of Michigan
    • December 2, 1999
    ...F.2d 167, 173 (6th Cir.1993) ("The admissibility of expert testimony is a matter of federal . . . procedure."); McInnis v. A.M.F., Inc., 765 F.2d 240, 244 (1st Cir. 1985); Stroud v. Cook, 931 F.Supp. 733, 736 (D.Nev.1996) ("Rules of evidence are at least nominally rules which govern matter ......
  • United States v. Manubolu, 1:19-cr-00184-JAW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Court (Maine)
    • August 10, 2020
    ...Federal Rules of Evidence, federal constitutional law, and federal law and regulation. FED. R. EVID. 1101(a) ; McInnis v. A.M.F., Inc. , 765 F.2d 240, 245 (1st Cir. 1985) (Federal Rules of Evidence apply in federal criminal proceedings); Ramos v. Louisiana , ––– U.S. ––––, 140 S. Ct. 1390, ......
  • Radford Trust v. First Unum Life Ins. Co. of Am., No. CIV.A.02-12477-WGY.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • June 15, 2004
    ...not in any way base this finding on the settlement between Hawkins and Doe, nor could it. See Fed.R.Evid. 408; McInnis v. A.M.F., Inc., 765 F.2d 240, 247 (1st 4. Doe's Claim for Benefits under the Policy On October 1, 1999, several months after Doe's employment with Hawkins ended, Doe filed......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
101 cases
  • Stecher v. Ford Motor Co.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • May 8, 2001
    ...of at least 20 states either have adopted this approach explicitly or expressed a consistent rationale. See McInnis v. A.M.F., Inc., 765 F.2d 240 (1st Cir.1985) (predicting Rhode Island law); Shipp v. General Motors Corp., 750 F.2d 418 (5th Cir.1985) (predicting Texas law); McLeod v. Americ......
  • In re Dow Corning Corp., Bankruptcy No. 95-20512.
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Tenth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Eastern District of Michigan
    • December 2, 1999
    ...F.2d 167, 173 (6th Cir.1993) ("The admissibility of expert testimony is a matter of federal . . . procedure."); McInnis v. A.M.F., Inc., 765 F.2d 240, 244 (1st Cir. 1985); Stroud v. Cook, 931 F.Supp. 733, 736 (D.Nev.1996) ("Rules of evidence are at least nominally rules which govern matter ......
  • United States v. Manubolu, 1:19-cr-00184-JAW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Court (Maine)
    • August 10, 2020
    ...Federal Rules of Evidence, federal constitutional law, and federal law and regulation. FED. R. EVID. 1101(a) ; McInnis v. A.M.F., Inc. , 765 F.2d 240, 245 (1st Cir. 1985) (Federal Rules of Evidence apply in federal criminal proceedings); Ramos v. Louisiana , ––– U.S. ––––, 140 S. Ct. 1390, ......
  • Radford Trust v. First Unum Life Ins. Co. of Am., No. CIV.A.02-12477-WGY.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • June 15, 2004
    ...not in any way base this finding on the settlement between Hawkins and Doe, nor could it. See Fed.R.Evid. 408; McInnis v. A.M.F., Inc., 765 F.2d 240, 247 (1st 4. Doe's Claim for Benefits under the Policy On October 1, 1999, several months after Doe's employment with Hawkins ended, Doe filed......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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