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JARVIS v FORD MOTOR COMPANY

U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals
Jarvis v Ford Motor Company

United States of Court of Appeals
For the second Circuit
August Term, 2000
(Argued: May 14, 2001 Decided: February 07, 2002 Corrected: February 11, 2002)
Docket Nos. 99-9405 (L), 00-9215 (CON)

Kathleen Madaline Jarvis, Individually
and as a parent and guardian of
Paul Michael Attila Jarvis, a minor,
Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Ford Motor Company,
Defendant-Appellee,
Before: Oakes, Van Graafeiland, and Sotomayor, Circuit Judges.

Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Naomi Reice Buchwald, Judge) granting, inter alia, defendant-appellee’s motions for judgment as a matter of law and for relief from an inconsistent verdict. We hold that there was a legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for plaintiff-appellant and, therefore, we vacate the judgment as a matter of law entered in defendant-appellee’s favor and remand for the district court to reinstate the jury verdict and award of damages. We also find that defendant- appellee’s claim of error arising from an allegedly inconsistent verdict was not adequately preserved and find no fundamental error in the jury instructions and verdict form. Finally, finding no abuse of discretion in the district court’s failure to hold a hearing, we affirm the district court’s determination of the amount by which the jury award should be adjusted to reflect collateral source payments pursuant to N.Y.C.P.L.R. 4545(c).

Vacated and remanded in part, affirmed in part.
Judge VanGraafeiland concurs in part and dissents in part in a separate opinion

THOMAS J. MURRAY, Murray & Murray Co., L.P.A., Sandusky, Ohio (George N. Tompkins, Jr., Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, New York, NY, and Mary S. Birkett on the brief), for plaintiff-appellant.

SOTOMAYOR, Circuit Judge:
A six-day-old 1991 Ford Aerostar driven by plaintiff-appellant Kathleen Jarvis suddenly accelerated, resulting in an accident from which Jarvis sustained serious injuries. Jarvis contends that the Aerostar “took off” without her depressing the accelerator and that she was unable to stop the van by pumping the brakes.

Jarvis sued defendant-appellee Ford Motor Company (“Ford”) in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Buchwald, J.) claiming, inter alia, that Ford was negligent and should be held strictly liable for the design of the Aerostar’s cruise control mechanism. A jury returned a verdict for Jarvis on her negligence claim but not on her strict products liability claim and awarded her damages. Ford objected to the verdict as inconsistent. The district court agreed but did not assign a remedy because it held that the evidence was insufficient to support a verdict for Jarvis, granting Ford’s Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law and dismissing the complaint. For the sake of completeness, the court also granted Ford’s motion to reduce the amount of the verdict because of collateral source payments pursuant to N.Y.C.P.L.R. 4545.

We vacate the grant of judgment as a matter of law for Ford and remand for the district court to reinstate the jury verdict and award of damages as adjusted by the collateral source payments. Jarvis’s evidence, if credited by the jury, was sufficient to establish that the Aerostar malfunctioned due to Ford’s negligent design. To prove negligence, Jarvis was not required to establish what specific defect caused the Aerostar to malfunction. Ford, for its part, did not prove that a malfunction was so unlikely as to warrant judgment as a matter of law in its favor.

We also hold that the district court failed to apply the correct legal standard to Ford’s objection to an allegedly inconsistent verdict. Applying the correct standard under Fed. R. Civ. P. 51, we find that Ford waived any claim of error by failing to state distinctly the nature and basis of its objection before the jury retired to deliberate and that there was no fundamental error in the jury instructions or verdict sheet warranting relief on appeal. Finally, we hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion in not conducting a hearing on collateral source payments, as Jarvis failed to raise a disputed issue of material fact regarding Ford’s evidence of such payments.

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