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McLaughlin v. Fellows Gear Shaper Co.

United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
786 F.2d 592 (1986)


Wilbur McLaughlin (Wilbur) and his wife (plaintiffs) sued Fellows Gear Shaper Co. (FGS) (defendant) after Wilbur’s thumb was amputated while he used a machine manufactured by FGS. Wilbur was standing on top of the machine when he was injured. The McLaughlins argued that the machine was defective in that it should have included an automatic shutoff or an “interlock” so as to prevent the type of injury suffered by Wilbur. In its defense, FGS asserted that it was not liable because it could not foresee that a person might stand on the machine and, in the alternative, because Wilbur had assumed the risk of harm. At trial, the court submitted special interrogatories to the jury, asking them to answer (1) whether the machine was defective, (2) if so, whether the defect proximately caused Wilbur’s injury, (3) whether it was foreseeable to FGS that an operator of the machine might stand on it, (4) whether Wilbur assumed the risk of injury, and (5) what damages should be awarded if a verdict were rendered in the McLaughlins’ favor. The jury answered “yes” to questions (1), (2), and (4), and “no” to question (3). It then awarded the McLaughlins $120,000 in damages under question (5). After hearing the jury’s answers, the McLaughlins moved for a mistrial and FGS moved for judgment in its favor. The court denied both motions and instead submitted supplemental interrogatories to the jury: was Wilbur’s standing on the machine a substantial factor in causing his injury, and was it the sole cause of his injury. The jury answered “no” to both questions. In court, the jury confirmed aloud that they intended to find for the McLaughlins. The court set aside the jury’s finding that Wilbur assumed the risk of harm and entered judgment in the McLaughlins’ favor. FGS appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Mansmann, J.)

Dissent (Adams, J.)

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