1st Circuit Upholds Jury Instruction in Electrolux Lawsuit

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on June 22, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Here's a really sad personal injury and wrongful death lawsuit, which was appealed in the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The case involved the death of a child in a power-mower accident.

In this sad story, the father, Kevin O'Neil, accidentally backed over his two-and-a-half year old son with an Exectrolux lawn mower.

The young boy's parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the parties responsible for the power-mower, including those responsible for manufacture, design and marketing of the mower.

The case was tried before a jury, and the tort theory used was largely the theory of defect in design. During the course of the trial, the jury kept submitting questions to the court and the court responded initially. The appeal before the First Circuit Court of Appeals arose over the second question that was submitted by the jury.

The court, upon receipt of the jury’s question, consulted with counsel and delivered supplemental instructions in response to the jury’s question. The jurors then continued deliberating and returned a take-nothing verdict in defendant Electrolux’s favor.

The plaintiffs moved for a new trial. The district court denied their motion.

On appeal, the First Circuit reviewed one sole issue: Whether the district court acted properly in issuing supplemental jury instructions. The Court of Appeals examined this question for abuse of discretion.

The Appeals Court decision referred to the district court’s decision.

Going back to the trial at the district court, the jury had asked the question “what is the definition of unreasonably dangerous? Also, could you please list the criteria.” The district court in making its decision, evaluated several factors, namely whether the plaintiffs had waived their objection and whether the instruction was prejudicial or misleading.

Finding that the objection had been preserved but that it was nonetheless proper, the district court denied the motion for a new trial.

The Court of Appeals affirmed, in a very short per curiam opinion.

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