Sprynczynatyk v. General Motors Corp., Nos. 84-1566

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore HEANEY, ROSS and FAGG; ROSS
Citation771 F.2d 1112
Parties18 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 952 Vivian SPRYNCZYNATYK and Paul Sprynczynatyk, Appellees/Cross-Appellants, v. GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, Appellant/Cross-Appellee.
Docket NumberNos. 84-1566,84-1611
Decision Date17 September 1985

Page 1112

771 F.2d 1112
18 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 952
Vivian SPRYNCZYNATYK and Paul Sprynczynatyk,
Appellees/Cross-Appellants,
v.
GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, Appellant/Cross-Appellee.
Nos. 84-1566, 84-1611.
United States Court of Appeals,
Eighth Circuit.
Submitted Jan. 14, 1985.
Decided Aug. 16, 1985.
Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied Sept. 17, 1985.

Page 1114

Christine Hogan, Bismarck, N.D., for appellant/cross-appellee.

Windle Turley, Dallas, Tex., for appellees/cross-appellants.

Before HEANEY, ROSS and FAGG, Circuit Judges.

ROSS, Circuit Judge.

Appellant and cross-appellee General Motors Corporation (GM) appeals from a final judgment entered in the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota based upon a jury verdict in an automobile product liability and negligence action brought by appellees and cross-appellants, Vivian Sprynczynatyk and her husband Paul Sprynczynatyk (Sprynczynatyks or plaintiffs). The Sprynczynatyks were awarded $5,025,000 in actual damages from GM. We reverse and remand with directions to the district court to conduct further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

FACTS

On July 16, 1980, at approximately 8:00 p.m. a one car accident occurred on a gravel road near Bismarck, North Dakota. Fourteen-year-old Rodney Sprynczynatyk (Rodney) was driving the family-owned 1980 Chevrolet Citation X-car. Rodney, who had obtained his learner's permit 2 or 3 weeks earlier, was accompanying his mother, Vivian Sprynczynatyk (Vivian) on some errands that evening. During the return trip to their house, Vivian, who had been driving, stopped and let Rodney drive the car. Rodney had driven the Citation a number of times before.

After Vivian turned the operation of the car over to Rodney, he drove approximately one mile on paved Highway 1804 and then turned north onto a gravel road. As Rodney started down a hill (approximately 11% grade), he encountered difficulties controlling the car. At some point the car left the road on the right (east) side, overturned, and came to rest on its top with the front of the car facing south. Vivian sustained injuries which rendered her quadriplegic.

Vivian and her husband Paul filed this action in district court against GM, the manufacturer of the 1980 Citation. The plaintiffs brought this action based upon theories of negligence and strict liability. They alleged that the Citation had either defectively and unreasonably dangerous or negligently designed brakes or both. The Sprynczynatyks contended that the rear brakes on the Citation locked causing the car to spin around 180? and roll as it tipped over into the east ditch. GM denied the alleged brake defect and disputed plaintiffs' theory of how the accident occurred. GM contended that Rodney did not apply the brakes, and even if he did they didn't lock, but that Rodney merely panicked as a

Page 1115

young inexperienced driver and oversteered the car off the road.

Vivian sought actual damages for her personal injuries and Paul sought actual damages for loss of consortium and lost services. Two months before trial the plaintiffs sought leave to amend their complaint to include a request for punitive damages. Plaintiffs' motion was denied as untimely.

Rodney was not a named party to the lawsuit. The Sprynczynatyks' insurance carrier had paid them $25,000, the policy limits, and the Sprynczynatyks had executed a release in favor of the named insured, Paul, his "heirs" and "all others," which arguably ran to Rodney.

Prior to trial Rodney was hypnotized by a trained psychologist, Dr. Robert Gordon, at the request of the plaintiffs' counsel. The hypnotic session was videotaped. While hypnotized Rodney recalled applying his right foot to the brakes as hard as he could before the car spun and left the gravel road. Prior to the hypnosis session, Rodney's recollection was different. On July 28, 1980, he gave a statement to an insurance agent that he didn't apply the brakes at all, and during his September 16, 1982 deposition he testified that he could have used the brakes but his best recollection was that he did not apply them.

During the hypnotic session, after Dr. Gordon put Rodney in a trance, he told Rodney his mind could reach back and recollect things that he never thought were possible. Dr. Gordon then led Rodney back to the events of the day of the accident. Rodney recounted his actions throughout the day and then what happened during the accident. The two critical passages relating to his application of the brakes are as follows:

RODNEY: I get back into the right tracks and start going down and the car went over to the left.

GORDON: It's going to the left?

RODNEY: Um-hum. And I see that I'm gonna go in the ditch and hit the fence.

GORDON: You see you're gonna hit it. What are you going to do? Where is your right foot?

RODNEY: On the brake.

GORDON: Where's your left foot?

RODNEY: Over the clutch.

GORDON: What are you doing with your right foot and how much pressure are you putting on the brake?

RODNEY: Pushing.

GORDON: How hard?

RODNEY: Hard.

GORDON: As hard as you can?

RODNEY: Um-hum.

GORDON: Are you pumping it or pushing it?

RODNEY: No. I'm holding it steady.

GORDON: Holding it steady. What's happening now?

RODNEY: Car is sliding.

GORDON: What are you going to do?

RODNEY: Screaming, the car turns around.

GORDON: Where's your foot?

RODNEY: Still on the brake.

* * *

* * *

GORDON: What happens now?

RODNEY: The car spins all the way around. I'm looking the other way.

GORDON: Where's your left foot?

RODNEY: Over the clutch now.

GORDON: Where's your right foot?

RODNEY: On the brake.

GORDON: What happens now?

RODNEY: I look over and I see the ditch coming closer to me. I keep screaming. I take my hands off the wheel and I feel the car tipping and I put them on the ceiling and shut my eyes.

GORDON: When do you shut your eyes?

RODNEY: Right when the car is tipping over. I feel it tipping. I put my hands on the ceiling and I close my eyes.

GORDON: Where are your feet?

RODNEY: On the floor.

After undergoing hypnosis, Rodney testified at his November 14, 1983 deposition that he recalled applying the brakes hard just before the car started to spin.

Page 1116

GM filed a motion in limine to limit Rodney's trial testimony to his pre-hypnosis statements or to require plaintiffs to establish the reliability of Rodney's post-hypnosis testimony prior to allowing him to testify at trial. The plaintiffs opposed the motion and after oral argument the district court denied GM's motion in full.

The liability issues of the case were tried to the jury first. As part of plaintiffs' case-in-chief, following Vivian Sprynczynatyk's testimony, Dr. Gordon testified regarding Rodney's hypnosis session. During the direct examination of Dr. Gordon, plaintiffs offered the videotapes of Rodney's hypnosis session as evidence and sought to play the videotapes for the jury. GM objected on the grounds that the tapes were not admissible to prove the facts that were recited on the tapes. The court overruled the objection at which time GM orally requested that the court give a cautionary instruction that the matters that were related on the tapes were not to be taken as proof of the facts recited. 1 The court gave the following oral instruction:

THE COURT: Ladies and gentlemen, the tapes that you are about to see are being received on the issue of--the ultimate issue of the credibility of the recall of the witness, Rodney Sprynczynatyk, and we aren't here--the purpose of them is to permit you to see it and you will be receiving other evidence on this subject both on the part of the plaintiff and contrary evidence from the defendant. And the purpose of viewing the tapes is to permit you to evaluate the opinions that you will subsequently hear.

The videotapes of the entire 56 minute hypnosis session were then viewed by the jury.

Rodney testified after Dr. Gordon without objection from GM. On direct examination Rodney testified that when the car was going toward the left ditch he started applying pressure to the brakes, the car kept going and then he hit them all the way and the car spun. On cross-examination Rodney testified that he now remembered things differently about the application of the brakes during the course of the accident than he did before hypnosis.

As part of its defense GM presented the expert witness, Dr. Martin Orne, a leading specialist in the field of hypnosis. Dr. Orne testified in general to the unreliability of hypnosis as a memory refresher and in particular to the absence of certain procedural safeguards in Rodney's hypnosis. Dr. Orne viewed Dr. Gordon's repeated questions regarding the location of Rodney's feet in relation to the brakes as a fatal flaw that was too suggestive and opined that Rodney's "new memory" was a creation of hypnosis and unlikely to be true.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Sprynczynatyks on both the strict liability and negligence counts. Following a trial on the damages, the jury awarded Vivian $4,500,000 and her husband Paul $525,000. The trial court entered judgment in accordance with the verdicts and denied GM's post-trial motions.

GM then filed this appeal. For reversal GM argues that the trial court erred 1) in admitting the videotapes of Rodney's hypnosis session; 2) in admitting Rodney's hypnotically enhanced testimony; 3) in excluding certain evidence of GM's post-crash tests of the accident car; 4) in failing to instruct on comparative fault; and 5) that there was not substantial evidence to support the verdict.

The Sprynczynatyks cross-appeal, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied them leave to amend their complaint to include a claim for punitive damages two months before trial. We discuss each of these issues in turn.

DISCUSSION

I. Admission of the Videotapes

The first issue we address is GM's contention that it was prejudicial and reversible error for the trial court to admit the

Page 1117

videotapes...

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79 practice notes
  • People v. Hayes
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • December 28, 1989
    ...805 F.2d 210, 223; Harker v. State of Md. (4th Cir.1986) 800 F.2d 437, 441; Sprynczynatyk v. General Motors Corp. (8th Cir.1985) 771 F.2d 1112, 1123; Clay v. Vose (1st Cir.1985) 771 F.2d 1, 4-5; United States v. Valdez (5th Cir.1984) 722 F.2d 1196, 1204; Contreras v. State (Alaska 1986) 718......
  • U.S. v. Rodriguez, Criminal Case No. C2-04-55.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of North Dakota
    • September 27, 2005
    ...distinguish between actual memories and any memories that may have been invented during hypnosis. Sprynczynatyk v. Gen. Motors Corp., 771 F.2d 1112, 1120 (8th Cir.1985). "After hypnosis the subject has one memory of the past event, the hypnotic memory, and that becomes hardened in the subje......
  • United States v. Young, Nos. 12–2527
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • July 15, 2014
    ...The district court's denial of the motion was not made conditionally or with the suggestion that the matter would be reconsidered.” 771 F.2d 1112, 1118 (8th Cir.1985) (emphasis added). Therefore, a district court's invitation to re-raise evidentiary challenges renders its ruling non-definit......
  • Sherrod v. Berry, No. 85-3151
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • August 20, 1987
    ...American Home Assur. Co. v. Sunshine Supermarket, Inc., 753 F.2d 321, 324-325 (3d Cir.1985); Sprynczynatyk v. General Motors Corp., 771 F.2d 1112, 1118-1119 (8th Cir.1985), certiorari denied, 475 U.S. 1046, 106 S.Ct. 1263, 89 L.Ed.2d 572; Sheehy v. Southern Pac. Trans. Co., 631 F.2d 649, 65......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
79 cases
  • People v. Hayes
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • December 28, 1989
    ...805 F.2d 210, 223; Harker v. State of Md. (4th Cir.1986) 800 F.2d 437, 441; Sprynczynatyk v. General Motors Corp. (8th Cir.1985) 771 F.2d 1112, 1123; Clay v. Vose (1st Cir.1985) 771 F.2d 1, 4-5; United States v. Valdez (5th Cir.1984) 722 F.2d 1196, 1204; Contreras v. State (Alaska 1986) 718......
  • U.S. v. Rodriguez, Criminal Case No. C2-04-55.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of North Dakota
    • September 27, 2005
    ...distinguish between actual memories and any memories that may have been invented during hypnosis. Sprynczynatyk v. Gen. Motors Corp., 771 F.2d 1112, 1120 (8th Cir.1985). "After hypnosis the subject has one memory of the past event, the hypnotic memory, and that becomes hardened in the subje......
  • United States v. Young, Nos. 12–2527
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • July 15, 2014
    ...The district court's denial of the motion was not made conditionally or with the suggestion that the matter would be reconsidered.” 771 F.2d 1112, 1118 (8th Cir.1985) (emphasis added). Therefore, a district court's invitation to re-raise evidentiary challenges renders its ruling non-definit......
  • Sherrod v. Berry, No. 85-3151
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • August 20, 1987
    ...American Home Assur. Co. v. Sunshine Supermarket, Inc., 753 F.2d 321, 324-325 (3d Cir.1985); Sprynczynatyk v. General Motors Corp., 771 F.2d 1112, 1118-1119 (8th Cir.1985), certiorari denied, 475 U.S. 1046, 106 S.Ct. 1263, 89 L.Ed.2d 572; Sheehy v. Southern Pac. Trans. Co., 631 F.2d 649, 65......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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