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Wood v. Morbark Industries

70 F.3d 1201 (1995)

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Wood v. Morbark Industries

United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

70 F.3d 1201 (1995)

Facts

Ginger Wood (Ginger) was killed at work after being pulled into the chute of a woodchipper that he was operating. His widow, Ruby Wood (plaintiff), filed suit against the manufacturer of the woodchipper, Morbark Industries, Inc. (Morbark) (defendant). Wood alleged that the machine was defectively designed because the chute was unreasonably small at only 17 inches in length. After the accident, Morbark changed the design of the woodchipper by adding length to the chute. Pursuant to a pretrial motion in limine, the trial-court judge ruled that all evidence of Morbark’s subsequent remedial measure be excluded from evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 407. During opening statements, Morbark’s counsel suggested that the woodchipper was not defective because Ginger’s employer ordered several more after the accident. In addition, the president of Morbark testified that the 17-inch chute was the “safest length.” After Wood’s counsel attempted to reference the design change to controvert this testimony, the trial-court judge instructed the jury to disregard any mention of a design with a lengthened chute. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Morbark. Wood appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by not allowing Wood to reference the change in design to show feasibility once Morbark’s president’s testimony had put the issue into controversy.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Birch, J.)

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