United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
RICHARD WEBBER SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for
New Trial .
underlying products liability claim arises from injuries
sustained by Plaintiff from a single-car crash in a Toyota
4Runner. A seven-day jury trial was held, and on May 1, 2018,
a jury returned its verdict in favor of Defendant Toyota
Motor Corporation on all claims. On May 29, 2018, Plaintiff
filed a Motion for New Trial .
a jury trial resulting in an adverse judgment, a party may
move for a new trial pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)(A).
Under this Rule, “[a] new trial is appropriate when the
first trial, through a verdict against the weight of the
evidence, an excessive damage award, or legal errors at
trial, resulted in a miscarriage of justice.” Gray
v. Bicknell, 86 F.3d 1472, 1480 (8th Cir. 1996). A
miscarriage of justice does not result whenever there are
inaccuracies or errors at trial; instead, the party seeking a
new trial must demonstrate that there was prejudicial error.
Buchholz v. Rockwell Int'l Corp., 120 F.3d 146,
148 (8th Cir.1997). Errors in evidentiary rulings are only
prejudicial, and therefore only represent a miscarriage of
justice that requires a new trial, where the error likely
affected the jury's verdict. Diesel Mach., Inc. v.
B.R. Lee Indus., Inc., 418 F.3d 820, 833 (8th Cir.
determining whether or not to grant a new trial, a district
judge is not free to reweigh the evidence and set aside the
jury verdict merely because the jury could have drawn
different inferences or conclusions or because judges feel
that other results are more reasonable.” King v.
Davis, 980 F.2d 1236, 1237 (8th Cir. 1992) (citing
White v. Pence, 961 F.2d 776 780 (8th Cir. 1992)).
“[T]he ‘trial judge may not usurp the functions
of a jury ... [which] weighs the evidence and credibility of
witnesses.'” White, 961 F.2d at 780
(quoting McGee v. S. Pemiscot Sch. Dist., 712 F.2d
339, 344 (8th Cir.1983)). “Instead, a district judge
must carefully weigh and balance the evidence and articulate
reasons supporting the judge's view that a miscarriage of
justice has occurred.” King, 980 F.2d at 1237.
“The authority to grant a new trial . . . is confided
almost entirely to the exercise of discretion on the part of
the trial court.” Allied Chem. Corp. v. Daiflon,
Inc., 449 U.S. 33, 36 (1980).
moves for a new trial on three grounds. First, Plaintiff
alleges she is entitled a new trial because the Court
prejudicially erred when it granted summary judgment as to
Plaintiff's strict liability for defective seatbelt
design of the Toyota 4Runner. On this claim, Plaintiff is
effectively requesting this Court alter or amend its order
granting in part and denying in part Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). Though a
motion to alter or amend judgment must be served no later
than ten days after the entry of the judgment, an order
dismissing fewer than all of the claims is not a final
judgment. Auto Servs. Co. v. KPMG, LLP, 537 F.3d
853, 856 (8th Cir. 2008). The final judgment in this case
occurred when the clerk entered judgment on May 1, 2018, and
Plaintiff filed this motion on May 29, 2018. Therefore,
Plaintiff's motion on this ground will be denied as
next argues this Court prejudicially erred by
“effectively eliminating Plaintiff's evidence of
other similar incidents” (“OSI”).
“The decision whether to admit ‘similar
incident' evidence is committed to the sound discretion
of the district court.” Arabian Agric. Servs. Co.
v. Chief Indus., 309 F.3d 479, 485 (8th Cir. 2002)
(citing Novak v. Navistar Int'l Transp. Corp.,
46 F.3d 844, 851 (8th Cir.1995)). “Evidence of prior
accidents is admissible only if the proponent of the evidence
shows the accidents occurred under circumstances
substantially similar to those at issue in the case
at bar.” Hale v. Firestone Tire & Rubber
Co., 756 F.2d 1322, 1332 (8th Cir. 1985). As the Eighth
Circuit recently recognized, OSI evidence “carries the
risk of raising ‘extraneous controversial points,
lead[ing] to a confusion of the issues, and present[ing]
undue prejudice disproportionate to its usefulness.”
Adams v. Toyota Motor Corp., 867 F.3d 903, 914 (8th
Cir. 2017). District courts should carefully consider these
concerns “before admitting evidence of a limited number
of substantially similar incidents.” Id.
Defendant asked this Court to “exclude all evidence of
any other alleged similar incidents” in its Motion in
Limine. Oral argument on this motion was heard at the
pretrial conference, and Defendant proposed five criteria as
parameters for Plaintiff's proposed OSI evidence. This
Court subsequently carefully considered the particular facts
of this case and whether Defendant's proposed criteria or
the parameters offered by district courts in other cases
would successfully eliminate the risks associated with this
OSI evidence. See Adams, 867 F.3d at 914 (allowing
OSI evidence for incidents involving the same model year
vehicle, same miles of use, same driver inputs, same vehicle
response to inputs and expert foundation must rely on
personal knowledge of driver testimony); Lovett ex rel.
Lovett v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 201 F.3d 1074, 1080-81
(8th Cir. 2000) (allowing OSI evidence for incidents
involving the same model year vehicle, same topographical
environment, similar speeds, occurring at a railroad
crossing, resulting in a rollover, and involving a collision
with a locomotive). It ultimately granted that motion in part
and ordered Defendant and its experts to “limit their
OSI evidence to no more than five vehicle rollovers involving
(1) the same model year vehicle; (2) vehicles with over 100,
000 miles of use with no modifications; and (3) the same
topographical environment.” Courts are not obligated to
take into consideration what evidence Plaintiff can or cannot
produce in determining “what degree of similarity there
must be to make the evidence admissible.”
Adams, 867 F.3d at 913. Rather, courts are only
required to limit OSI evidence to “a limited number of
substantially similar incidents.” Id. This
Court maintains its three-part standard effectively limited
such evidence, and it accordingly did not commit prejudicial
error with respect to this ground for new trial.
Plaintiff argues this Court prejudicially erred by allowing
Defendant to introduce evidence of modifications to the
vehicle. Plaintiff notes the affirmative defense of product
modification requires (1) the modification be unforeseeable
and (2) evidence demonstrating the modification rendered the
product unsafe. See Gomez v. Clark Equip. Co., 743
S.W.2d 429, 432 (Mo. App. W.D. 1987). However, this Court did
not instruct the jury on the affirmative defense of product
modification. Rather, this Court allowed reference to and
evidence of modifications to the vehicles because the
modifications were relevant to other related issues and
appropriately before the jury. For instance, the experts of
both parties had to opine whether a design defect caused the
accident or whether there were other causes that could
explain it. Additionally, Plaintiff and her husband offered
inconsistent testimony concerning what modifications they
understood had been made to the vehicle.
specifically argues this Court should not have permitted
Defendant's expert, Lee Carr, to rely on the declaration
of Jon Sell, a prior owner of the vehicle, to opine the
vehicle had been modified and that could have affected its
stability. In doing so, Plaintiff argues, the Court allowed
Defendant to improperly relay hearsay evidence to the jury.
This Court did not allow Defendant to submit the underlying
declaration for jury consideration, but only allowed Mr. Carr
to explain his basis for forming his opinion as to the cause
of the crash. Expert witnesses are permitted to rely on
potentially inadmissible evidence in forming an opinion if it
is of the type reasonably relied on by experts in the field.
See Fed. R. Evid. 702. Further, Plaintiff was not
deprived of any due process rights to confront her witness
because no testimonial evidence by Mr. Sell was offered at
“[a]n allegedly erroneous evidentiary ruling does not
warrant a new trial unless the evidence was so prejudicial
that a new trial would likely produce a different
result.” Diesel Mach., 418 F.3d at 833
(internal quotation omitted). Overall, there was relatively
little evidence and argument related to vehicle modification.
Even assuming this Court erred in allowing such evidence and
references, that error is highly unlikely to have been the
determining factor for the jury in coming to its verdict and
a new ...