HEANEY, Circuit Judge.
On March 14 or 15, 1971, John Farner and another truck driver left Huron, South Dakota, for Seattle, Washington, hauling a 40,000-pound load in a tractor trailer manufactured by Peterbilt Motors Company, a division of Paccar, Inc. While traveling west on Interstate 90 near Cle Elum, Washington, Farner's truck veered out of its lane and crashed into a concrete column between the east and westbound lanes at about 2:15 a. m. on March 17, 1971. Both men were killed instantly.
Paccar contends that its motions for a directed verdict and for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, alternatively, for a new trial should have been granted because the plaintiff failed to prove the existence of a defect in the Farner truck, or that any such defect was the proximate cause of the accident. We disagree.
The standards for granting a motion for a directed verdict and for judgment notwithstanding the verdict are the same. Boyle v. Simon, 558 F.2d 896 (8th Cir. 1977); Compton v. United States, 377 F.2d 408, 411 (8th Cir. 1967). In either procedural context, we apply the federal test for sufficiency of the evidence set out by this Court in Polk v. Ford Motor Co., 529 F.2d 259, 267 (8th Cir.) (en banc), cert. denied, 426 U.S. 907, 96 S.Ct. 2229, 48 L.Ed.2d 832 (1976), quoting Hanson v. Ford Motor Co., 278 F.2d 586, 596 (8th Cir. 1960):
Since such motions deprive the plaintiff of a determination of the facts by a jury, they should be sparingly granted. Jeanes v. Milner, 428 F.2d 598, 601 (8th Cir. 1970).
Under South Dakota law, the plaintiff must first prove that the product was defective and that the defect existed at the time that the product left the hands of the manufacturer before there can be recovery under a negligence theory of products liability. Shaffer v. Honeywell, Inc., 249 N.W.2d 251, 256 (S.D.1976); Engberg v. Ford Motor Company, 87 S.D. 196, 201, 205 N.W.2d 104, 107 (1973). Paccar first contends that the existence of a defect must be established by direct evidence. This assertion is without merit. Under South Dakota law, as in other jurisdictions, proof of the existence of a defect may be made by direct or circumstantial evidence. See, e. g., Shaffer v. Honeywell, Inc., supra at 256; Lindsay v. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Corporation, 460 F.2d 631, 638 n. 4 (8th Cir. 1972), and cases cited therein.
Paccar next contends that even if circumstantial evidence can support proof of a defect, there was insufficient circumstantial evidence here. Since Paccar does
The plaintiff introduced testimony that more than fifty warranty claims for spring failure in air leaf trucks were received by Peterbilt during 1969 and 1970.
The plaintiff also introduced the testimony of several local truckers who had experienced spring failure. Dennis Kauer testified that in May, 1973, when he was driving a Peterbilt truck identical to the Farner vehicle and with a similar load, the right-hand spring connecting the forward rear tandem axle to the tractor frame broke. Kauer testified that the truck veered first toward the shoulder and then toward the center line. The breakage of the spring caused the axle to become freewheeling; and after the truck stopped, he noticed that the tires of the forward dual axle on the broken side had moved back until they were rubbing against the tires of the rear tandem axle. He further testified that after the spring broke, he noticed that two of the spring's three leaves had rusted cracks more than halfway to the center of the leaves. Richard Curtis testified to a similar spring failure and loss of vehicle control when driving a 1972 Peterbilt truck equipped with an air leaf suspension system. He testified that after the broken spring was replaced, his trucking firm installed chains around the axles of their Peterbilt trucks to hold the axle in place in the event of spring failure. His father, Robert
Farner purchased the truck in question as a new vehicle in March, 1970, from Sioux City Truck Sales in Sioux City, Iowa. Although the normal life of springs of the type on the Farner truck is five to six years, two springs broke during its first year of operation. At the time of the accident, the truck had been driven approximately 190,000 miles; thus, it was considered practically new by industry standards. There was evidence that Farner had many years of experience in the trucking business and carefully maintained his equipment. The wreck was not inspected for suspension system failure after the accident.
The only evidence introduced by Paccar which tended to directly negate the existence of a design defect was the testimony of a Peterbilt engineer that failure of air leaf suspension springs could be caused by operation on a rough road at high speeds, an overloaded condition or inadequate maintenance and alignment. We believe that the evidence, taken as a whole, sufficiently supports the inference that a design defect existed in the Farner truck and that this defect existed at the time that it left the hands of the manufacturer.
Paccar next contends that even if a defect in the truck was identified, there was insufficient evidence that this defect proximately caused the accident. It argues that since the accident could have resulted from other causes, such as sleep or inattention by the driver, a verdict in its favor should have been directed.
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and assuming that all conflicts in the evidence were resolved by the jury in the plaintiff's favor, we conclude that there was sufficient evidence from which the jury could have found that failure of the truck's spring suspension system was a proximate cause of the accident. There was testimony at trial that the tires on the tandem axles of the truck, as shown in a photograph taken after the accident, appeared to be touching and that this could have been due to spring failure.
We conclude that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict. Paccar's motions for a directed verdict and for judgment notwithstanding the verdict were properly denied.
Paccar contends that the trial court erred in admitting into evidence the Stephens' memoranda and the recall letter mailed to John Farner. It contends that there was insufficient foundation for their admission, that the documents were hearsay and that any probative value which they had was outweighed by their prejudicial effect.
The admission or exclusion of evidence necessarily lies within the sound discretion of the trial court. Bond v. Local Un. 823, Int. Br. of T., C., W. & H. of America, 521 F.2d 5, 10 (8th Cir. 1975); Lowry v. Black Hills Agency, Inc., 509 F.2d 1311, 1313-1314 (8th Cir. 1975). We find no abuse of discretion here.
At the time of the admission of the Stephens' memoranda, the plaintiff had established that the Farner truck was equipped
We also find that the same facts, together with the Stephens' memoranda, were sufficient foundation for the admission of the recall letter. Paccar argues that it should have been excluded because the sole purpose of the recall campaign was to change all double valves used in the air leaf system to single valves and that this change was unrelated to the plaintiff's claim of defective springs. This argument is without merit. It is evident from the Stephens' memoranda and the deposition of Laverne Eilers, service manager for Sioux City Truck Sales, that the recall campaign was initiated not only for valve replacement but also for replacement of any defective springs, clamps or U-bolts and for the balancing of the springs. This multiple purpose is reflected in the recall letter where it was stated that a "combination of spring misalignment, improper maintenance and air pressure imbalance can cause * * * premature spring failure." The recall campaign was, therefore, directly related to the plaintiff's prior evidence of spring failure since the theory of her case was not limited to a claim of defective springs per se but was rather that a defectively designed system, including air pressure imbalance caused by improper valves, was the cause of spring failure.
We turn now to Paccar's contention that the Stephens' memoranda and the recall letter should have been excluded because of the hearsay rule.
Although the principles governing admissions by a party-opponent do not exclude admissions made under a duty imposed by law, such admissions may, nonetheless, be excluded where the statute imposing the duty expressly makes the communication confidential or where such privilege is necessarily implied in order to further public policy objectives. See 4 Wigmore, Evidence § 1050 (Chadbourn rev. 1972). The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act imposes no express confidentiality upon recall communications between manufacturers and purchasers.
We decline to follow the Vockie case. In Robbins v. Farmers Union Grain Terminal Ass'n, 552 F.2d 788 (8th Cir. 1977), this Court held that the exclusionary rule governing subsequent remedial measures is inapplicable in a strict liability case because it serves no deterrent function. The reason for this conclusion is expressed by the South Dakota Supreme Court:
Shaffer v. Honeywell, Inc., supra at 257 n.7, quoted in Robbins v. Farmers Union Grain Terminal Ass'n, supra at 793.
We believe that this reasoning is equally applicable here. Just as it is not reasonable to assume that manufacturers will forego improvements in products in order to avoid admission of the evidence of the improvements against them, it is not reasonable to assume that the manufacturers will risk wholesale violation of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act
Lastly, Paccar contends that the Stephens' memoranda and the recall letter should have been excluded because of the inherently prejudicial nature of the recall evidence. Although there is always some attendant danger in the admission of recall evidence, we do not believe that, under the circumstances of its admission in this case, that danger of prejudice outweighed its probative value. See Fed.R.Evid. 403; Lowry v. Black Hills Agency, Inc., supra at 1314. The Stephens' memoranda and the recall letter were probative both of the existence of a design defect in the Farner vehicle
Lastly, Paccar contends that the testimony of Richard and Robert Curtis as to the installation of safety chains around the axles of their Peterbilt tractors should have been excluded. It contends that the admission of this evidence violated the prohibition of Fed.R.Evid. 407 against the admission of evidence of subsequent remedial measures, and that evidence of spring failure and subsequent installation of safety chains on the Curtis' trucks was not relevant to the issue of the existence of a defect in the Farner truck's suspension system.
The admission of the evidence of the Curtis firm's modifications was not barred by Fed.R.Evid. 407. Since Rule 407 does not apply to actions based on strict liability, this evidence was admissible under the strict liability count. Robbins v. Farmers Union Grain Terminal Ass'n, supra at 792-793. The fact that this evidence was generally admitted does not change this result since Paccar failed to request any limiting instruction or object to the failure of the trial court to so instruct the jury. See Robbins v. Farmers Union Grain Terminal Ass'n, supra at 795; Griggs v. Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, 513 F.2d 851, 857 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 865, 96 S.Ct. 124, 46 L.Ed.2d 93 (1975).
We also conclude that the evidence of spring failure in the Curtis firm's Peterbilt trucks, and the firm's subsequent installation of safety chains, was relevant to the issue of defective design. See Hoppe v. Midwest Conveyor Company, Inc., 485 F.2d 1196, 1202 (8th Cir. 1973). From the existence of spring breakage in similar Peterbilt air leaf suspension systems and the need for a safety device to hold the axles in place, the jury could infer that the same potential malfunction existed in the Farner truck and that this malfunction resulted in loss of vehicle control. See Cunningham v. Gans, 507 F.2d 496, 500 (2nd Cir. 1974); Carlson v. Chisholm Moore Hoist Corporation, 281 F.2d 766, 772 (2nd Cir.), cert. denied, 364 U.S. 883, 81 S.Ct. 172, 5 L.Ed.2d 104 (1960). This evidence tends to make the desired inference more probable than it would be without it, see Fed.R.Evid. 401, and its admission was not an abuse of discretion.
Paccar also argues that there was insufficient foundation to permit Robert Curtis to give his opinion "on the proper design of suspension systems for trucks." This argument is without merit. The qualification
The judgment is affirmed.