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McLaughlin v. Fellows Gear Shaper Co

    Brief Fact Summary.

    McLaughlin (plaintiff) sued Fellows Gear Shaper Co (defendant) for after he was injured by a machine manufactured by the defendant.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    When a court submits interrogatories to the jury, and they give inconsistent answers, the court may submit other interrogatories to supplement the original ones, to clarify the jury’s answers.

    Facts.

    After the plaintiff’s thumb was cut off while using a machine manufactured by the defendant, the plaintiff sued, arguing the machine was defective because it should have had an automatic shut off button. The defendant argued that because the plaintiff was standing on top of the machine when injured, they could not foresee the accident. The trial court submitted interrogatories to the jury asking (1) if the machine was defective, (2) if the machine was defective, was the defect proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury, (3) was it was foreseeable to the defendant that an operator of the machine might stand on top of it, (4) did the plaintiff assume the risk of injury, and (5) what damages should be awarded if the judge ruled in the plaintiff’s favor. The jury answered in the affirmative to questions (1), (2), and (4), and in the negative to question (3). The jury awarded the plaintiffs $120,000. The judge then asked the jury was the plaintiff standing on top of the machine a substantial factor in him getting hurt and was it the only cause of the injury, which the jury responded no, and they were going to find for the plaintiff. The judge set aside the verdict of the jury.

    Issue.

    Whether when a court submits interrogatories to the jury, and they give inconsistent answers, the court may submit other interrogatories to supplement the original ones, to clarify the jury’s answers.

    Held.

    Yes. When a court submits interrogatories to the jury, and they give inconsistent answers, the court may submit other interrogatories to supplement the original ones, to clarify the jury’s answers.

    Discussion.

    The court properly submitted to the jury supplemental interrogatories to clarify the jury’s answers and under rule 49 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court should have the jury clarify inconsistent answers instead of grating a mistrial. The court properly directed the jury to further consider the original questions asked through supplemental interrogatories.


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