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Murray v. Fairbanks Morse

United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
610 F.2d 149 (1979)


Facts

Norwilton Murray (plaintiff) was employed by Litwin Corporation, an installer of equipment. Murray and a co-worker were installing an electrical control panel built by Beloit Power Systems, Inc. (Beloit) (defendant), a subsidiary of Fairbanks Morse (defendant), at an oil refinery in the Virgin Islands. Beloit built the control panel to Litwin’s specifications and a Litwin engineer approved the product before it was shipped. In order to protect the unit, Beloit had attached two iron cross-members to the open bottom of the unit to stabilize it during shipping. Litwin intended to install the control panel on a platform over an open space about 10 feet above the concrete floor of the refinery. Murray’s task was to align the holes in the base of the control panel with the holes in the platform and secure the unit with mounting bolts. However, the holes were not perfectly aligned and Murray used a crowbar to rock the unit into place. When Murray put his weight on one of the iron cross-members to complete the task, the iron cross-member gave way and Murray fell about 10 feet onto the concrete floor incurring serious injuries. Murray brought a products liability action against Beloit alleging alternative theories of strict liability and common law negligence. The district court held that the Virgin Islands’ comparative negligence statute applied and instructed the jury that if they found Beloit liable and Murray negligent that it was to reduce Murray’s award by the percentage attributable to him. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Murray and assessed the sum of $2 million against Beloit. The jury then found that Murray had been 5 percent negligent in his conduct. The trial judge reduced the $2 million award accordingly. After Beloit’s motion for a new trial was denied it appealed. Murray cross-appealed, arguing that his award should not have been reduced by 5 percent. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit had appellate jurisdiction over the case.

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Holding and Reasoning (Rosenn, J.)

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