United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division
LISA C. CONE, Attorney-in-Fact and Next Friend of TIMOTHY H. L. FRAZIER, and TIMOTHY H. L. FRAZIER, Individually, Plaintiffs,
HANKOOK TIRE COMPANY, LTD., Defendant.
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR NEW
THOMAS ANDERSON CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Plaintiff Lisa C. Cone, attorney-in-fact and
next friend of Timothy H.L. Frazier, and Timothy H.L.
Frazier's Motion for New Trial (ECF No. 371) filed on
July 27, 2017. Defendant Hankook Tire Company, Ltd. has
responded in opposition. For the reasons set forth below,
Plaintiffs Motion is DENIED.
27, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Complaint alleging products
liability claims under Tennessee law for defects in a
commercial truck tire manufactured by Defendant. According to
the Complaint, on July 8, 2013, Mr. Frazier was acting in the
course of his employment and driving a concrete mixing truck
owned by his employer when the truck's front steer tire
suffered tread separation. The truck crashed and the mixing
drum separated from the tractor, causing Mr. Frazier to
suffer severe spinal cord injuries. Defendant denied that its
truck tire was defective. Trial commenced on June 19, 2017.
After a nine-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor
of Defendant on June 30, 2017. The Court entered its judgment
the same day.
Motion before the Court, Plaintiff requests a new trial
pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Plaintiff argues that the Court improperly instructed the
jury on two points. First, the Court's negligence per
se instruction was based on federal motor carrier
regulations designed and adopted to protect the general
public, and not specifically the drivers of commercial motor
vehicles like the subject mixing truck. Plaintiff argues then
that the doctrine of negligence per se simply did
not apply in this case. Plaintiff further argues that the
negligence per se instruction was confusing in that
it could allow the jury to find that a violation of the
statute was “peremptory.” Second, the Court's
superseding cause instruction was not supported in the
record. Plaintiff contends then that the Court's
erroneous jury instructions are grounds for a new trial.
other basis for a new trial is the recent discovery that
Defendant hired a researcher to contact the members of the
jury after the trial. Plaintiff states that Defendant's
conduct “creates unanswered questions of whether any
other violations occurred and the effect of these violations
to the trial, resulting in an unfair prejudice to the
Plaintiffs.” For these reasons Plaintiff argues that a
new trial is warranted.
has responded in opposition. Defendant asserts that the
Court's instructions on negligence per se and superseding
cause were accurate statements of the law and supported in
the record. Concerning superseding cause, Defendant argues
that under Tennessee law an immune employer's failure to
maintain a product constitutes a superseding cause of an
employee's injury. Defendant introduced proof that
Southern Concrete failed to maintain the tire properly and
should have removed it from service. Defendant also argues
that Plaintiff has failed to show prejudice from the
instruction. The jury could have found as a threshold matter
that the tire was not defective at all and therefore never
reached the question of superseding cause. As for negligence
per se, Defendant argues that the federal statutes
authorizing the Secretary of Transportation to promulgate the
federal motor carrier regulations clearly state that one
purpose of the regulations is to protect the operators of
commercial vehicles. Otherwise, Plaintiff has not shown that
the Court's instruction were an incorrect statement of
the law. Finally, Plaintiff has not demonstrated that
post-verdict interviews with the jury somehow deprived
Plaintiff of a fair trial. Defendant asks the Court then to
deny Plaintiff's Motion for New Trial.
Rule 59, after a jury trial, a court may grant a new trial
“for any of the reasons for which new trials have
heretofore been granted in actions at law in the courts of
the United States.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a). A new trial is
appropriate when the jury reaches a seriously erroneous
result as evidenced by (1) the verdict being against the
clear weight of the evidence; (2) the damages being
excessive; or (3) the trial being unfair to the moving party
in some fashion, i.e., the proceedings being influenced by
prejudice or bias. Cummins v. BIC USA, Inc., 727
F.3d 506, 509-10 (6th Cir. 2013) (citing Static Control
Components, Inc. v. Lexmark Int'l, Inc., 697 F.3d
387, 414 (6th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks and
brackets omitted). Furthermore, “a motion for a new
trial will not be granted unless the moving party suffered
prejudice.” Tompkin v. Philip Morris USA,
Inc., 362 F.3d 882, 891 (6th Cir. 2004). In this regard
the party seeking a new trial has the burden to show harmful
prejudice. Simmons v. Napier, 626 F. App'x 129,
132 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing Tobin v. Astra Pharm. Prods.,
Inc., 993 F.2d 528, 541 (6th Cir. 1993)). The Sixth
Circuit has explained that “the governing principle in
the district court's consideration of a motion for a new
trial is whether, in the judgment of the trial judge, such
course is required in order to prevent an injustice . . .
.” Park W. Galleries, Inc. v. Hochman, 692
F.3d 539, 544 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Davis by Davis v.
Jellico Cmty. Hosp. Inc., 912 F.2d 129, 133 (6th Cir.
1990) (internal quotation marks omitted)). The party seeking
a new trial bears “a heavy burden.” Miller v.
Am. President Lines, Ltd., 989 F.2d 1450, 1466 (6th Cir.
has challenged two specific jury instructions in support of
the Motion for a New Trial. The Court considers jury
instructions as a whole “to determine whether they
fairly and adequately submitted the issues and applicable law
to the jury.” Nolan v. Memphis City Sch., 589
F.3d 257, 264 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Arban v. West Pub.
Corp., 345 F.3d 390, 404 (6th Cir. 2003)). “A
party needs only a slim amount of evidence to support giving
a jury instruction, but jury instructions must be reviewed as
a whole to determine whether an instruction is
necessary.” Tannenbaum v. Fed. Ins. Co., 608
F. App'x 316, 319 (6th Cir. 2015) (quoting Taylor v.
TECO Barge Line, Inc., 517 F.3d 372, 387 (6th Cir.
2008)). A new trial is not required based on flaws in the
jury instructions “unless the instructions, taken as a
whole, are misleading or give an inadequate understanding of
the law.” Id. (quoting Arban, 345
F.3d at 404).
first contests the jury instructions on negligence per se and
the Court's decision to charge the jury on federal motor
carrier regulations found at 49 C.F.R. § 392.7 and
§ 396.13(a). The Court defined negligence per se simply
as follows: “A person who violates a statute or
regulation is negligent. However, a person violating a
statute or regulation is not at fault unless you also find
that the violation was a legal cause of the injury or damage
for which claim has been made. I will provide you with
further instructions defining legal cause in just a few
moments.” The Court's full statement about the two
regulations to which Plaintiff now objects was as follows:
“The regulations prohibit the driving of a truck unless
the driver is satisfied that certain listed parts, including
the tires on the truck, are in good working order.”
Jury Instructions 25 (ECF No. 357). Plaintiff does not argue
that the instructions failed to state the law accurately.
Plaintiff argues that the doctrine of negligence per se,
under the particular regulations listed in the jury charge,
did not apply in this case.
Court holds that Plaintiff has not discharged his heavy
burden to show that the Court's instructions were
erroneous or that they misled the jury. Plaintiff has failed
to show that any error in giving the negligence per se
instruction caused him prejudice. The specific regulation at
issue addressed the driver's duty to satisfy himself
prior to driving a truck that the truck's tires were
“in good working order.” In other words the
regulation concerned Mr. Frazier's duty to inspect the
tires before he got behind the wheel of his vehicle. But the
Court also instructed the jury that it was only to compare
Mr. Frazier's possible negligence, including his
violation of the federal safety regulation, if the jury first
found Hankook to be at fault. The jury's answer on the
verdict form was the Hankook was not at fault, under either a
negligence theory or a strict liability theory. Viewing the
jury instructions as a whole, the jury never even reached Mr.
Frazier's possible negligence for the supposed violation
of 49 C.F.R. § 392.7 and § 396.13(a). As such, the
instruction had no prejudicial effect. The negligence per se
instruction does not entitle Plaintiff to a new trial for
this reason alone.
Plaintiff's contention that the regulation did not apply
in this case is without merit. Tennessee applies negligence
per se only where “two threshold questions” are
satisfied: “whether the plaintiff belongs to the class
of persons the statute was designed to protect and whether
the plaintiff's injury is of the type that the statute
was designed to prevent.” Whaley v. Perkins,
197 S.W.3d 665, 673 (Tenn. 2006). Plaintiff's argument to
the contrary notwithstanding, the federal regulation at issue
here easily meets this test. Congress directed the Secretary
of Transportation to “prescribe regulations on
commercial motor vehicle safety” which would constitute
the “minimum safety standards for commercial motor
vehicles.” 49 U.S.C. § 31136(a). Congress did so
“to minimize dangers to the health of operators of
commercial motor vehicles and other employees whose
employment directly affects motor carrier safety” and
“to ensure increased compliance with traffic
laws” and other existing safety and health ...