Norton v. Snapper Power Equipment

806 F.2d 1545 (11th Cir. 1987)

Yeazell, pp. 53-55


Facts: Norton was hurt while using a riding mower.  He sued the manufacturer.  After a trial, a jury found for the plaintiff on his product liability claim, but the judge entered a judgment notwithstanding the verdict for the defendant.  The plaintiff appealed.


Issue: Did the district court err in granting judgment notwithstanding the verdict to the defendant?


Rule: A court should grant judgment notwithstanding the verdict for the moving party only when it finds that, having taken the evidence as most favorable to the non-moving party, reasonable people could not possibly find for the non-moving party.


Analysis: The court finds that even though the causation evidence in Norton’s favor is circumstantial, it is enough such that reasonable people could disagree about whether Norton has enough evidence to win.


Conclusion: The judgment notwithstanding the verdict is reversed and the case is remanded.


Notes and Problems


1.     The trial court and the appellate court disagree on whether the lack of a “dead man” device is or could be a “defect”.  The trial court seems to zoom in on the fact that the plaintiff must prove not only causation but also that it was a defect that caused the injury.  The best evidence that the appellate court was right was that the jury actually did find for the plaintiff.  The only way they could have done that and had their verdict correctly set aside would be if the jury itself was unreasonable.

2.     I think the difference is that a stone getting into the steering mechanism is entirely out of the control of GM, but the dead man device could only have been installed by Snapper.


a.      What looks possible pretrial can “evaporate” at trial.

b.     Realistically, the verdict might rest on the fact that the jury has a sympathetic plaintiff before them, and they feel that he shouldn’t go away empty handed even if that’s wrong as a matter of law.  The Court of Appeals says that the jury could have found that the preponderance of the evidence showed that the lack of a dead-man mechanism did cause the accident.

4.     I think judgment will be entered for the plaintiff.  I’m sure the defendant will appeal.


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