Provanzano v. MTD Products Company, et al
Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton: ENDORSED ORDER entered. MEMORANDUM AND ORDERFor the forgoing reasons,1) plaintiffs motion for judgment on his 93A claim (Docket No. 172) is DENIED and2) plaintiffs motion for judgment as a matter of law, or, in the alternative, for a new trial (Docket No. 179) is DENIED. So ordered.(Caruso, Stephanie)
United States District Court
District of Massachusetts
MTD Products Co.,
Civil Action No.
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
Plaintiff Anthony Provanzano (“plaintiff”) brought this
case against defendant MTD Products Company (“MTD” or
“defendant”) with respect to an incident during which four of
plaintiff’s fingers were amputated by a Troy-Bilt 26J Mini Rider
riding lawn mower.
Plaintiff generally alleged that the lawn
mower, which was manufactured by defendant, was defective and
unreasonably dangerous and, as a result, caused plaintiff’s
A jury trial was held in May, 2017 and the jury found that
1) defendant was negligent in designing, manufacturing or
failing to provide adequate warnings or instructions for the
subject lawn mower but that such negligence was not a
substantial cause of the accident and 2) that defendant breached
the implied warranty of merchantability by selling the subject
lawn mower but again that such a breach was not a substantial
cause of the accident.
Accordingly, the jury awarded no damages
to the plaintiff.
Plaintiff has since filed two post-trial motions which are
pending before the Court:
a motion for judgment on his M.G.L.
c. 93A claims (“93A claims”) and a motion for judgment as a
matter of law on the negligence and breach of warranty claims
submitted to the jury or, in the alternative, for a new trial.
For the following reasons, both motions will be denied.
Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, or, in
the Alternative, for a New Trial
Plaintiff requests that the Court vacate the jury verdict
in favor of defendant on the causation issues for both the
negligence and breach of warranty claims and enter judgment in
his favor or, in the alternative, to conduct a new trial.
Judgment as a matter of law overturning a jury verdict is
warranted only if there was insufficient evidence at trial for a
reasonable jury to find in favor of the non-moving party. Fed.
R. Civ. P. 50.
The court must examine the evidence of record,
draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the prevailing party
and determine whether there is a sufficient evidentiary basis
for the verdict. Zimmerman v. Direct Fed. Credit Union, 262 F.3d
70, 75 (1st Cir. 2001).
The court may not assess witness
credibility, resolve conflicts in testimony or weigh the
Barkan v. Dunkin’ Donuts, Inc., 627 F.3d 34, 39 (1st
Although a non-moving party with the burden of
proof at trial must present more than a “mere scintilla” of
evidence and cannot rely on conjecture or speculation, see id.,
the court must not disturb a jury verdict unless the evidence,
viewed in the light most favorable to the prevailing party,
“points unerringly to an opposite conclusion.” Zimmerman, 262
F.3d at 75.
In the alternative, a court has the discretion to order a
new trial when the jury verdict is against the clear weight of
the evidence, is based upon false evidence or would result in a
clear miscarriage of justice. Mayo v. Schooner Capital Corp.,
825 F.2d 566, 570 (1st Cir. 1987).
Although the authority of a
court to order a new trial is “broad”, the First Circuit has
“often” emphasized that
a district judge cannot displace a jury’s verdict merely
because he disagrees with it or because a contrary
verdict may have been equally . . . supportable.
Jennings v. Jones, 587 F.3d 430, 436 (1st Cir. 2009) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
If the moving party seeks a new trial on the basis of an
allegedly improper jury instruction, the court can set aside the
verdict if it finds that the instruction is 1) “misleading,
unduly complicating, or incorrect as a matter of law” and 2) is
not harmless. Davignon v. Clemmey, 322 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2003)
(quoting Romano v. U-Haul Int’l, 233 F.3d 655, 665 (1st Cir.
In doing so, the court must keep in mind that it need
only give jury instructions that, taken as a whole, “advert to
the critical issues” and set forth the general legal framework
applicable to those issues. Zimmerman, 262 F.3d at 80.
Sufficiency of the Evidence
With respect to defendant’s negligence and breach of
warranty claims, plaintiff challenges the sufficiency of the
evidence establishing that defendant’s actions were not a
substantial cause of the accident.
Plaintiff also maintains
that, based on the evidence introduced at trial, the design of
the subject riding lawn mower must have caused the accident.
First, as defendant correctly notes, it is plaintiff’s
burden to prove causation.
Moreover, there is evidence in the
record to suggest that plaintiff did not prove that defendant’s
actions were a substantial cause of the accident.
plaintiff’s own expert witness, Kevin Sevart, testified that the
accident could not have happened as plaintiff testified.
Dan Martens, one of defendant’s experts, testified that even if
the subject mower had been built with plaintiff’s proposed
alternative design, an operator of the mower could still
override (intentionally or unintentionally) the mower’s safety
That suggests that any putative design flaw in the
mower was not a substantial cause of the accident.
Thus, viewing the record in a light most favorable to
defendant, as it must, the Court concludes that there was
sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that plaintiff did
not meet his burden with respect to causation.
Jury Instructions and Verdict Form
In the alternative, plaintiff requests a new trial on
grounds that the Court erred when it instructed the jury that it
must find that defendant’s breach of implied warranty was a
substantial cause of the accident in order to award damages and
when it included the term “substantial cause” in the
corresponding question on the verdict form.
Defendant generally responds that plaintiff must establish
“legal” causation, which means substantial cause, to succeed on
a breach of warranty claim and that the Court so instructed the
Although plaintiff seems to imply in his memorandum
supporting the motion that causation is not something he must
prove to succeed on a breach of warranty claim, he nevertheless
correctly concedes that proof of “legal” cause is required for a
breach of warranty claim. See Lally v. Volkswagen
Aktiengesellschaft, 698 N.E.2d 28, 43.
He also admits that
legal causation is “synonymous” with proximate causation and
that proximate causation means “substantial cause”.
precisely what the Court instructed and case law supports such
an instruction. See, e.g., Laspersa v. Arrow Int’l, Inc., 2009
WL 5217030, at *8 (D. Mass. Dec. 23, 2009) (citing Matsuyama v.
Birnbaum, 890 N.E.2d 819, 842-43 (Mass. 2008)).
Plaintiff also contends that the Court’s instruction on the
breach of warranty claim improperly required the jury to
undertake a comparative fault analysis.
The Court instructed
the jury, however, that
[i]t does not matter whether other concurrent causes
contributed to the Plaintiff’s injuries so long as you
find that the Defendant's conduct was a substantial
Thus, the Court expressly instructed the jury not to
perform a comparative fault analyses.
When taken as a whole,
the Court concludes that its jury instruction (and corresponding
verdict form) were appropriate. See Veracode, Inc. v.
Appthority, Inc., 137 F. Supp. 3d 17, 81 (D. Mass. 2015)
(holding that the Court did not err in instructing the jury when
its instructions were consistent with applicable law).
Claims under M.G.L. c. 93A
For the same reasons described above, plaintiff requests
that the Court enter judgment in its favor on the 93A claims.
Because his 93A claims are based on the same breach of implied
warranty and negligence theories as the common law claims, they
will be denied on the same grounds. See, e.g., Iannacchino v.
Ford Motor Co., 888 N.E.2d 879, 889 (Mass. 2008) (“An implied
warranty claim and a c. 93A claim . . . based on the same
economic theory of injury and the same set of alleged
facts . . . should survive or fail under the same analysis.”).
For the forgoing reasons,
plaintiff’s motion for judgment on his 93A claim
(Docket No. 172) is DENIED and
plaintiff’s motion for judgment as a matter of law,
or, in the alternative, for a new trial (Docket
No. 179) is DENIED.
/s/ Nathaniel M. Gorton
Nathaniel M. Gorton
United States District Judge
Dated September 8, 2017
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