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Provanzano v. MTD Products Co.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 8, 2017

Anthony Provanzano, Plaintiff,
v.
MTD Products Co., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          Nathaniel M. Gorton, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Anthony Provanzano (“plaintiff”) brought this case against defendant MTD Products Company (“MTD” or “defendant”) with respect to an incident during which four of plaintiff's fingers were amputated by a Troy-Bilt 26J Mini Rider riding lawn mower. Plaintiff generally alleged that the lawn mower, which was manufactured by defendant, was defective and unreasonably dangerous and, as a result, caused plaintiff's injuries.

         A jury trial was held in May, 2017 and the jury found that 1) defendant was negligent in designing, manufacturing or failing to provide adequate warnings or instructions for the subject lawn mower but that such negligence was not a substantial cause of the accident and 2) that defendant breached the implied warranty of merchantability by selling the subject lawn mower but again that such a breach was not a substantial cause of the accident. Accordingly, the jury awarded no damages to the plaintiff.

         Plaintiff has since filed two post-trial motions which are pending before the Court: a motion for judgment on his M.G.L. c. 93A claims (“93A claims”) and a motion for judgment as a matter of law on the negligence and breach of warranty claims submitted to the jury or, in the alternative, for a new trial. For the following reasons, both motions will be denied.

         I. Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, or, in the Alternative, for a New Trial

         Plaintiff requests that the Court vacate the jury verdict in favor of defendant on the causation issues for both the negligence and breach of warranty claims and enter judgment in his favor or, in the alternative, to conduct a new trial.

         A. Legal Standard

         Judgment as a matter of law overturning a jury verdict is warranted only if there was insufficient evidence at trial for a reasonable jury to find in favor of the non-moving party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50. The court must examine the evidence of record, draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the prevailing party and determine whether there is a sufficient evidentiary basis for the verdict. Zimmerman v. Direct Fed. Credit Union, 262 F.3d 70, 75 (1st Cir. 2001). The court may not assess witness credibility, resolve conflicts in testimony or weigh the evidence. Barkan v. Dunkin' Donuts, Inc., 627 F.3d 34, 39 (1st Cir. 2010). Although a non-moving party with the burden of proof at trial must present more than a “mere scintilla” of evidence and cannot rely on conjecture or speculation, see id., the court must not disturb a jury verdict unless the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, “points unerringly to an opposite conclusion.” Zimmerman, 262 F.3d at 75.

         In the alternative, a court has the discretion to order a new trial when the jury verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, is based upon false evidence or would result in a clear miscarriage of justice. Mayo v. Schooner Capital Corp., 825 F.2d 566, 570 (1st Cir. 1987). Although the authority of a court to order a new trial is “broad”, the First Circuit has “often” emphasized that

a district judge cannot displace a jury's verdict merely because he disagrees with it or because a contrary verdict may have been equally . . . supportable.

Jennings v. Jones, 587 F.3d 430, 436 (1st Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         If the moving party seeks a new trial on the basis of an allegedly improper jury instruction, the court can set aside the verdict if it finds that the instruction is 1) “misleading, unduly complicating, or incorrect as a matter of law” and 2) is not harmless. Davignon v. Clemmey, 322 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2003) (quoting Romano v. U-Haul Int'l, 233 F.3d 655, 665 (1st Cir. 2000). In doing so, the court must keep in mind that it need only give jury instructions that, taken as a whole, “advert[] to the critical issues” and set forth the general legal framework applicable to those issues. Zimmerman, 262 F.3d at 80.

         B. Application

         1. Sufficiency ...


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