United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
FOR A NEW TRIAL AND/OR TO AMEND THE JUDGMENT (DKT. NO.
KATHERFNE A. ROBERTSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the court on the plaintiffs, Vermont Mutual
Insurance Company, Inc.'s ("Vermont Mutual" or
"Plaintiff'), motion for a new trial and/or to amend
the judgment after a jury returned a verdict in favor of the
defendant, Sondrini Enterprises ("Sondrini" or
'Defendant"). Vermont Mutual brought claims for
negligence and breach of warranty against Sondrini as the
subrogee of Roger and Pamela Manzolini. The Manzolinis'
residence in Richmond, Massachusetts was destroyed by fire on
November 26, 2013. Vermont Mutual alleged that the fire was
caused by Sondrini's faulty installation of a chimney at
the Manzolinis' home. The jury found that Sondrini was
negligent and breached the express and implied warranties to
install the chimney in a workmanlike manner and to use
reasonable skill in its construction, but its negligence and
warranty breaches were not the proximate cause of the
property damage loss.
claims that a new trial is required because the jury's
answers to the questions on the verdict form as to each claim
were inconsistent with each other and with the verdict for
Defendant. For the reasons that follow, Vermont Mutual's
motion is DENIED.
recitation of the pertinent jury instructions and the wording
of the verdict form are necessary to the resolution of
Vermont Mutual's motion.
Instructions to the Jury
court delivered the following instructions on the claims of
negligence and breach of warranty:
Vermont Mutual Insurance Company alleges that Defendant
Sondrini Enterprises was negligent when it designed and/or
installed the chimney at the Manzolinis' home. Generally,
negligence is the failure to exercise that degree of care
which a reasonable person would exercise in the
order for Plaintiff to prevail on the negligence claim in
this case, it must prove all of the following four elements
by a preponderance of the evidence:
First: Sondrini owed the Manzolinis a duty of reasonable
Second: Sondrini breached its duty of care by not acting
reasonably under the circumstances;
Third: Injuries or damages are directly related to
Sondrini's breach of its duty of care and would not have
occurred but for Sondrini's breach of its duty of care;
Fourth: Roger and Pamela Manzolini suffered injuries or
must prove that Sondrini owed the Manzolinis a duty of
reasonable care. Here, "reasonable care" means the
care that an ordinary, reasonably prudent contractor would
exercise under similar circumstances. . . .
second element Plaintiff must prove is that
Sondrini was negligent; that is, that Sondrini breached its
duty of care by failing to exercise the degree of care that a
reasonably prudent chimney installation contractor would have
exercised under the circumstances. Plaintiff can prove this
element in one of two ways. Plaintiff can show by a
preponderance of the evidence that Sondrini either (1) did
something that a reasonably prudent chimney installation
contractor would not do under similar circumstances; or (2)
failed to do something that a reasonably prudent chimney
installation contractor would do under similar circumstances.
determine that the Plaintiff has proved that Sondrini
breached its duty to the Manzolinis, you must then consider
whether the Plaintiff has proved the third
element - causation - by a preponderance of the
evidence. Even if the Plaintiff has proved the other elements
by a preponderance of the evidence, you cannot find Sondrini
liable unless there was a causal relation between its
negligence and the damages.
its burden to prove causation, the Plaintiff has the burden
to show that Sondrini's negligent conduct was the
proximate cause of the Manzolinis' damages. The Plaintiff
is not required to eliminate entirely all possibility that
Sondrini's conduct was not a cause. To meet its burden,
the Plaintiff need only show that there was a greater
likelihood or probability that the damages were due to causes
for which Sondrini was responsible than from any other cause.
conduct was the cause of the Manzolinis' damages if the
damages would not have occurred but for Sondrini's
negligence. In other words, if the damages would have
happened anyway, Sondrini is not liable. If you find that it
is at least equally probable that the negligence was that of
another, including the Manzolinis themselves, then Sondrini
is not liable.
occurrence of an accident, such as a fire, standing alone, is
not always evidence of negligence. If you find that the
precise cause of the fire is left to conjecture or guesswork
and may as reasonably be attributed to a condition for which
no liability attaches as to one for which it does, then you
must return a verdict for Sondrini. On the other hand, the
Plaintiff is not required to point out the exact way in which
the fire occurred as long as it showed a greater likelihood
that the damages came from an act of negligence for which
Sondrini was responsible.
fourth element that Plaintiff must prove is
that Roger and Pamela Manzolini suffered injuries or damages.
In this case, the parties have agreed that the Manzolinis
suffered injuries or damages so you need not deliberate on
that element; you may treat it as proved by the Plaintiff.
Breach of the Implied Warranty
order for the Plaintiff to prevail on its breach of implied
warranty claim, it must prove the following elements by a
preponderance of the evidence:
First, Sondrini had a duty to install and/or
design the chimneys in a workmanlike manner and to use
reasonable skill in its [sic] construction;
Second, Sondrini failed to install and/or
design the chimneys in a workmanlike manner and to use
reasonable skill in its ...