BARKSDALE, Circuit Judge:
This appeal, concerning product liability claims, is from a Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a) directed verdict in favor of John Deere Company. We AFFIRM.
In September 1987, Gilbert Lloyd, a resident of Mississippi, was killed while operating his Deere Model A tractor, which did not have a rollover protection structure. Mr. Lloyd's widow (Lloyd) brought this Mississippi wrongful death diversity action against Deere, alleging, inter alia, that Mr. Lloyd was killed when the tractor "rolled over or flipped over" on him; and that the tractor, designed and manufactured by Deere, was "defective and unreasonably dangerous" for two reasons: (1) improper design, including lack of rollover protection and improper weight distribution; and (2) lack of an adequate warning that the tractor could roll over, including when driven up inclines.
At the close of Deere's case, the district court granted it a directed verdict.
Lloyd contends that the district court erred by (1) granting the directed verdict; (2) excluding the testimony of Lloyd's expert on the adequacy of the warning; and (3) permitting Deere's expert to opine how
The district court found that a reasonable jury could conclude only: (1) that there was no design defect; and (2) that the danger of rollover was open and obvious, relieving Deere of a duty to warn. In doing so, it applied the correct standard: a directed verdict is appropriate only if, after considering all the evidence and drawing all inferences therefrom in favor of the non-moving party, the court is convinced that no reasonable jury could find in favor of the non-movant. E.g., Treadaway v. Societe Anonyme Louis-Dreyfus, 894 F.2d 161, 164 (5th Cir.1990); Melton v. Deere & Co., 887 F.2d 1241, 1243-44 (5th Cir.1989); Boeing Co. v. Shipman, 411 F.2d 365, 374 (5th Cir.1969). We review such an award de novo. E.g., Melton, 887 F.2d at 1244.
No authority need be cited for the rule that for this diversity action, Mississippi's substantive law is applied. In Mississippi, Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A is the starting point for strict liability actions. E.g., Hall v. Miss. Chem. Express, Inc., 528 So.2d 796, 799 (Miss.1988); Toliver v. General Motors Corp., 482 So.2d 213, 215 (Miss.1985); State Stove Mfg. Co. v. Hodges, 189 So.2d 113 (Miss.1966), cert. denied sub. nom, Yates v. Hodges, 386 U.S. 912, 87 S.Ct. 860, 17 L.Ed.2d 784 (1967). That section provides in pertinent part:
Accordingly, to recover under the theory of strict liability, Lloyd "must show that the product was defective and that its defective condition made the product unreasonably dangerous to [Mr. Lloyd]." Toliver, 482 So.2d at 218 (emphasis by court).
The tractor had a tricycle configuration and was designed primarily for working row crops. At the time of the accident, Mr. Lloyd was using it for a logging operation (pulpwood); and logs were on the ground at the scene of the accident. In granting the directed verdict, the district court placed great emphasis on the following stipulation, as do we:
Concerning the design claim, numerous obvious factors must be considered in determining both whether the tractor was defective (because of its design) and whether that defect rendered the tractor unreasonably dangerous to Mr. Lloyd. For example, alternative designs and industry standards are "relevant to whether a product is reasonably fit or unreasonably dangerous...." Hall, 528 So.2d at 799.
Id. at 799-800. Other factors to consider on this appeal include whether the rollover danger (that a different design would allegedly have remedied) was open and obvious and, closely related to that factor, Mr. Lloyd's experience in operating tractors, especially the one in issue. See, e.g., Brown v. Williams, 504 So.2d 1188, 1190-92 (Miss.1987); Harrist v. Spencer-Harris Tool Co., 244 Miss. 84, 95, 140 So.2d 558, 562 (1962).
As stipulated, Mr. Lloyd was an experienced tractor operator, including of the type involved in the accident. And, for this and other reasons discussed in the succeeding section on the failure to warn claim, the danger was open and obvious. Finally, as discussed below, the proof overwhelmingly showed both that the rollover protection structure urged by Lloyd was not developed until almost 20 years after the tractor was manufactured and that front end weights are not part of rollover protection.
Over objection, an expert witness for Lloyd, Dr. Ketchman, testified (by videotape
On the other hand, two of Deere's experts, both of whom were involved in the development of rollover protection structures, testified that no feasible structures existed until the mid-1960s, almost 20 years after the tractor was manufactured. They also testified that the function of front end weights is not to prevent rollover and that they were never intended to serve that function. Furthermore, one of Deere's experts testified that the tractor's structure was not designed to accommodate a rollover device and would collapse in a rollover if one were affixed.
The district court found the evidence "overwhelmingly persuasive" that no feasible rollover protection structure existed in 1948 or 1949 when the tractor was manufactured; that Dr. Ketchman provided "[a]t best ... a scintilla of evidence that indicate[d] that it would have been reasonable and technically feasible at the time for John Deere to have put roll bars or front end weights on the tractor that would have prevented this unfortunate accident."
On crediting Dr. Ketchman's testimony and drawing all favorable inferences therefrom, as we are required to do, we find that Lloyd has failed to adduce sufficient evidence, including of a feasible alternative design, to withstand a directed verdict on the design claim. "A mere scintilla of evidence is insufficient to present a question for the jury"; rather, there "must be a conflict in substantial evidence to create a jury question." Boeing, 411 F.2d at 374-75. No such conflict is presented here. Accordingly, we hold that no reasonable jury could find for Lloyd on the design claim.
Concerning the inadequate warning claim, the district court granted a directed verdict on the ground that the danger of rollover while operating the tractor under the circumstances existing at the time of the accident, including those stipulated, was open and obvious to someone with Mr. Lloyd's experience, obviating any duty to warn. As discussed, this factor is one of the elements to be considered in determining whether a product is defective, including because of its design. See comment j to § 402A. And, where the danger in issue (here, rollover) is open and obvious, no warning is required. See Brown, 504 So.2d at 1191-92; Jones v. Babst, 323 So.2d 757, 759 (Miss.1975) ("negligent design"); Harrist, 244 Miss. at 95, 140 So.2d at 562.
Mr. Lloyd had 27 years experience operating tractors. He was utilizing a tricycle configured agricultural tractor for logging and was travelling up a 30° incline in an area with logs strewn on the ground. No more need be said; we agree with the district court that "the evidence is overwhelming, that based on the experience of [Mr. Lloyd, when] ... driving this particular farm tractor at this particular place under the circumstance confronting him, the danger was open and obvious."
Accordingly, we hold that the district court did not err in granting a directed verdict on this issue.
As discussed below, because the properly granted directed verdict was awarded on grounds independent from the two evidentiary rulings in issue, it is not necessary to reach them.
Lloyd contends that the district court erred when it excluded the testimony of Lloyd's expert, Dr. Tanyzer, who was tendered (by videotape deposition) to testify that Deere had failed to place "signal words" in the warning plate on the tractor.
Lloyd contends also that the district court erred in allowing Banks Brassel, tendered only as an expert in farm equipment operation, to render an opinion on how the accident occurred. In short, he testified that the accident happened when the tractor hit a log, lifting up its front end and resulting in the backward rollover. But, in any event, as quoted supra, the parties had stipulated that "[a]t the time of the accident [Mr. Lloyd] was travelling in a direct line toward the top of a hill ... up an incline of approximately 30 degrees on sandy soil and the tractor rolled over back-wards after encountering a log." And, there was other uncontested expert testimony on how the accident occurred — what caused the rollover.
It is not necessary to reach this issue. In light of the stipulation, and other uncontested evidence on how the accident occurred, the directed verdict was properly granted independent of Brassel's testimony.
Accordingly, the judgment is
In any event, the standard Lloyd pled for all three bases for liability is that the tractor was "defective and unreasonably dangerous" — language directly from § 402A. The warranty claim (a form of strict liability, see, e.g. Gray, 771 F.2d at 869) is based only on implied warranty; accordingly, there was no proof offered for breach of an express warranty. And, other than design and form of warning evidence, there was no proof offered that might be grounds for liability based on negligence.
Therefore, while we have applied the standard for a directed verdict as to all three theories, or bases, for liability, and find it correctly granted for each, our analysis here is couched in the language of § 402A strict liability.
The admission of expert testimony is a matter left to the discretion of the trial court, subject to reversal only if "manifestly erroneous." Smogor v. Enke, 874 F.2d 295, 297 (5th Cir.1989).