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Conway v. Chemical Leaman Tank Lines, Inc

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Conway (plaintiff) sued Chemical Leaman Tank Lines, Inc. (defendant) regarding a cause of action stemming from tort law.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    If a party presents surprise witness, whose testimony is damaging, a court may award a new trial.

    Facts.

    2 Trucks collided while going in the opposite direction, one owned by the plaintiff and one owned by the defendant, resulting in the death of the plaintiff. The driver of the defendant’s truck was the only survivor and witness. At trial experts testified for both parties and some argued the plaintiff crossed the center line and hit the defendant and some argued the opposite happened. After the first jury’s decision in favor of the plaintiff, a new expert testified at the second trial, and the plaintiffs objected to that testimony. The testimony stated that both cars came near the center line causing their mirrors to hit, which caused the crash. In its answer to interrogatories, the jury found both parties were the proximate cause of the accident, the jury found in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff appealed objecting to the expert’s testimony and the verdict was reversed. At the third trial, the jury found for the plaintiff. The verdict was again reversed because the interrogatories at the second trial were sufficient for a finding in favor of the defendant, and the court granted a new trial again, and the defendant appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether if a party presents surprise witness, whose testimony is damaging, a court may award a new trial.

    Held.

    Yes. If a party presents surprise witness, whose testimony is damaging, a court may award a new trial.

    Discussion.

    Under rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court can award a new trial for any reason that a federal court previously has. When a parties’ rights have been substantially effected and a surprise witness has been presented, courts have awarded new trials before. Here, the plaintiff’s rights were substantially effected based on the presentation of a new witness at the close of trial. The court could have either granted a continuance or a new trial, and did not abuse their discretion.


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