This 312 personal injury action
In late 1959, Beloit sold this papermaking machine to Marathon Paper Company who subsequently sold their operation to American Can Company. Shortly after the installation of the machine, an air chute was removed by American Can. The evidence is conflicting as to whether this chute was an automatic feeding device, although there seemed to be a general agreement that this device did not work properly on heavier grades of paper. Employees of American Can testified that the chute was removed because it did not work. American Can also removed certain doctor blades from the machine. While the evidence is conflicting as to the function of these blades, even Beloit's expert witness admits that they were not safety guards and that various problems occurred with respect to the operation of these blades. American Can employees testified that, just as in the case of the chute, the blades were taken off because they did not function properly.
This machine consists of wet and dry calendar stacks. The paper is threaded through various nip points between each roll in the calendars. The nip is the area between any two in-running rolls facing a
Just prior to the accident a sheet of paper being processed broke and it became necessary to rethread the machine. Harrell went to a catwalk on the back side of the dry calendar with an air hose. The sheet of paper being rethreaded was thrown into the top nip and the paper began to wrap around the top roll instead of threading properly. Harrell was attempting to blow the paper off the roll with an air hose when his right hand became caught in the nip. He immediately attempted to pull out the hose with his left hand and it too was caught.
Harrell's injuries may be summarized as follows: On the right hand the thumb was denuded; the little finger was split from the tip to the palm; the denuded proximal phalanx was all that remained of the ring finger; the other two fingers were severed; and, during surgery, the metacarpals were shortened because they were no longer functional. On the left hand, the thumb was intact but a completely denuded index finger was the only finger remaining; and the metacarpals were also shortened during surgery. Each upper extremity was 95% permanently disabled which, according to the medical testimony, was translated into 75% Permanent partial disability to the body as a whole.
At the close of the trial, and after the jury had been charged, the plaintiff began making his exceptions to the charges. Whereupon, the Court recessed and the Judge did not allow Harrell to complete his objection and exceptions nor was Beloit allowed any opportunity to object or except. The trial Judge granted each attorney an exception to the entire charge that was submitted to the jury. A verdict was returned in favor of Harrell in the amount of $800,000.
THE ISSUES PRESENTED
Three primary issues are presented:
1) Beloit claims error in the denial of its motion for a directed verdict, asserting two separate contentions:
The first primary issue (the denial of a directed verdict) in its two aspects, then, may be summarized:
2) Beloit urges that reversible error was committed by the trial Judge when Beloit was denied the right to make specific objections to the Court's charges before the jury retired, even though counsel was allowed to except to all charges given.
The second issue, then, is: whether the denial of the right to make specific objections to the trial Court's charge before the jury retired was reversible error even though the charges themselves were not erroneous.
3) Beloit urges this Court to find that the amount awarded Harrell as damages was so excessive that it clearly shows bias, prejudice or mistake and an abuse of discretion by the jury.
I. The Directed Verdict Issue.
Under established Alabama law, in civil cases, the function of an appellate court in reviewing a motion for a directed verdict is to "[r]eview the tendencies of the evidence most favorable to the [party moved against], regardless of any view we may have as to the weight of the evidence and we must allow such reasonable inferences as the jury were free to draw, not
As more recently stated in Ford Motor Company v. Rodgers, Ala., 337 So.2d 736 :
A. Intervening Cause Defense.
We have reviewed the trial Court's entire instruction to the jury, placing particular emphasis on that portion of the charge dealing with proximate cause and intervening cause. We find that under this instruction, including five charges requested in writing by Beloit concerning proximate cause, this question was properly submitted to the jury; and we further find that there is sufficient evidence to support its finding that Beloit's negligent design was the proximate cause, or the proximate contributing cause, of the injury.
A basic principle of tort law, so fundamental as to require no citation, is that a tort-feasor whose act or acts contributes in causing an injury may be held liable for the entire resulting loss. Butler v. Olsham, 280 Ala. 181, 191 So.2d 7 (1966); see also Prosser, Law of Torts, 4th Ed., pp. 291-323 (1971).
Indeed, the following two charges given at Beloit's request recognize this basic tort principle:
There is ample evidence that Beloit was aware that the air chute did not work from the outset when the machine was installed and thus Beloit could foresee the probability that this chute would be removed. Beloit's expert, Mr. Cleiler, testified that the chute as installed would probably not function as an automatic feeder on heavy grades of paper. Secondly, there seems little dispute that these doctor blades were not guards. Mr. Cleiler stated, "I do not consider these doctor blades guards."
Furthermore, Harrell's expert witness, Professor Landry (a design engineer who was currently serving as the National President of the American Society of Safety Engineering), testified:
We hold, therefore, that the intervening cause issue was properly submitted to the jury.
B. Open and Obvious Defense.
Beloit argues that there is no duty owed by a remote manufacturer to a workman to guard against known, open and obvious dangers to the workmen. Translated literally, this seems to say that Beloit did not owe Harrell a duty to protect him from known, open and obvious dangers.
The open and obvious doctrine appears to have its genesis in the case of Campo v. Schofield, 301 N.Y. 468, 95 N.E.2d 802 (1950). Stated succinctly, the doctrine is that there is no liability on the part of a manufacturer for injuries resulting from dangers which are patent and obvious. New York, which begat this doctrine in Campo, has since destroyed it in the recent case of Micallef v. Miehle Co., 39 N.Y.2d 376, 384 N.Y.S.2d 115, 348 N.E.2d 571 (1976). The New York Court of Appeals, in overruling Campo, stated, "Campo suffers from its rigidity in precluding recovery whenever it is demonstrated that the defect was patent. Its unwavering view produces harsh results in view of the difficulties in our mechanized way of life to fully perceive the scope of danger which may ultimately be found by a court to be apparent in
Taken to its logical conclusion, the application of the open and obvious doctrine amounts to an assumption of risk as a matter of law. Additionally, its application would relieve the defendant of the burden of proving that the plaintiff subjectively appreciated a known risk. In view of our highly technological environment, an adoption of such a doctrine would be a step backwards in an increasingly mechanized society. In essence, the doctrine permits the manufacturer to ignore a known hazard and escape liability because the workman also recognized the danger.
Ordinarily, the conduct of the plaintiff, in his use of an alleged defective product, is a factual issue for the jury. See the "Allowable Defenses" section of Atkins v. American Motors Corporation, Ala., 335 So.2d 134 (1976).
II. The Failure to Allow Objections to Court's Charge Issue.
Beloit argues that the trial Judge committed reversible error in denying counsel the right to make specific objections to the Court's charges before the jury retired. The trial Judge did, however, allow each attorney "an exception to everything the Court had said or done in the charges." The Judge elaborated by stating that his purpose was to preserve for all the attorneys any error committed.
Although we do not approve of the Court's refusal to allow counsel to state their objections before the jury retired for deliberation, we believe no prejudicial error was committed unless the given instructions were themselves erroneous; and our careful review of all challenged portions of the charge discloses no erroneous jury instruction.
The purpose of allowing counsel the opportunity to state their objections is twofold. First, it preserves, for appellate review, any error committed in the giving of a defective instruction. Secondly, it offers the trial judge an opportunity to correct any error he may have committed. See ARCP, Rule 51, and Comments. Here, there is no question that the trial Judge, by refusing to allow the parties to state specific objections to his charge, denied himself the opportunity to correct any error he might have made; but the crucial question is whether, absent an erroneous charge, this was prejudicial to Beloit. We hold it was not.
III. The Excessive Verdict Issue.
Beloit contends that the jury verdict was so excessive that it showed bias, prejudice and partiality on the part of the jury. It has long been established that compensatory damages for pain and suffering must be left to the sound discretion of the jury subject only to correction for clear abuse or passionate exercise. Birmingham Electric Co. v. Howard, 250 Ala. 421, 34 So.2d 830 (1948).
Beloit's chief contention is founded on the evidence that Harrell returned to work at American Can prior to the trial. This is merely one factor to be considered by the jury in determining if there has been a loss of earning capacity. As stated in Louisville & N. R. Co. v. Steel, 257 Ala. 474, 59 So.2d 664 (1952):
The distinction between loss of actual earnings and loss of earning capacity is well stated in Lawrence v. Norfolk Dredging Company, 319 F.2d 805 (4th Cir. 1963):
Mr. Bennett, an employment specialist, gave his expert opinion that Mr. Harrell's age, educational background, training, work history, coupled with the damage to his hands, and the fact that the plaintiff was "over-employed" in his present job rendered him virtually unemployable for other work. (On the efficacy of non-medical expert testimony on the issue of employability and occupational disability, see Hagler v. Gilliland, 292 Ala. 262, 292 So.2d 647 (1974)).
Dr. Rutledge, the orthopedist who performed three separate surgical procedures on Mr. Harrell, stated:
Unquestionably, if loss of earning capacity, coupled with the other special damages, were the only elements of damages presented for the jury's consideration, we could not justify an affirmance of the $800,000 verdict. But our cases have consistently held that all injurious residuals proximately resulting from permanent injury negligently inflicted by one party upon another, properly plead and proved, are due to be considered by the jury in arriving at its verdict. Some of these factors were enumerated in Alabama Great Southern R. Co. v. Flinn, 199 Ala. 177, 74 So. 246 (1917):
This eloquent expression, originally stated in Hill's Case, 93 Ala. 514, 9 So. 722 (1890), is founded on the premise that man does not live by bread alone. Approximately one-third of man's waking hours consist of life that is consumed neither by sleep nor work. The very presence of Harrell for the jury's observation during trial was evidence from which the jury could measure the worth of the pain and suffering and the diminution of those functions so essential to the fullness of life; for all man does is live. Lawrence v. Norfolk Dredging Company, supra.
Our detailed review of the evidence does not convince us that the jury abused its discretion in its award of damages. Both hands were virtually traumatically
Moreover, the denial by the trial Court of this ground for a new trial serves to strengthen the validity of the jury verdict. A good statement of the rule is found in Carlisle v. Miller, 275 Ala. 440, 155 So.2d 689 (1963):
Where, as here, there is no set standard for the admeasurement of damages but the damages to be awarded are left to the sound discretion of the jury, a remittitur or a new trial should not be ordered on the ground of excessiveness of the jury's verdict except in those cases where the court can clearly see that the verdict has been reached on account of bias, passion, prejudice, corruption, or other improper motive or cause . . . And only where the damages allowed are so excessive as to warrant the belief that the jury must have been misled by some mistaken view of the merits of the case should the court interfere and set the verdict aside . . . also, where the trial court refuses to grant a new trial because he does not believe the verdict is excessive, the favorable presumption attending the jury's verdict is thereby strengthened."
We therefore affirm.
FAULKNER, SHORES and EMBRY, JJ., concur.
HEFLIN, C.J., and BLOODWORTH, ALMON and BEATTY, JJ., concur specially.
MADDOX, J., dissents.
BLOODWORTH, Justice (concurring specially).
I concur. Although I think that the verdict is "too much," I am not convinced that the verdict is "excessive" under our case law, so that we would be justified in ordering a remittitur.
HEFLIN, C. J., and ALMON and BEATTY, JJ., concur.
MADDOX, Justice (dissenting).
Liability for product-caused harm may not be imposed on a manufacturer in the absence of proof that the product was defective or dangerous at a time when the manufacturer had possession of it or was otherwise responsible for its condition with respect to danger or defect. A manufacturer is not liable for injuries caused by a defective product if the defect was caused by an alteration which amounts to an intervening or superseding cause of the injury.
Here, the evidence is uncontradicted that after the machine left the control of the manufacturer, it was altered by removal of the automatic paper threading device, the removal of the doctor blades and the alteration of the catwalk. If the machine had not been altered, I do not believe, as a matter of law, that the accident could have occurred as it did.
While I recognize that not every modification of a product after it has left the hands of the manufacturer will defeat recovery, but only such modification as might
The plaintiff's theory, adopted by eight members of this Court, is that Beloit should have foreseen that American Can would modify the machine and make it dangerous, While I recognize that foreseeability is normally a jury issue, I believe that justice requires that, under the facts of this case, this Court should find that Beloit was not under any duty to foresee that these major modifications of its product would be made. In fact, I believe that Beloit has been deprived of due process of law under both State and Federal Constitutions. Consequently, I respectfully dissent.