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Calhoun v. Honda Motor Co. - 738 F.2d 126 (6th Cir. 1984)

Rule:

In order to find a manufacturer liable for injury sustained by his product, the jury must find that the product in question was defective and that this defect was the cause of plaintiff's injury.

Facts:

On July 18, 1978 plaintiff, Richard Calhoun was driving his Honda 750 CB motorcycle to work when he collided with the rear of a stationary tractor trailer truck. Plaintiff filed an action against Honda alleging strict liability for his injuries under Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A (1974). The alleged product defect was poor wet braking performance due to a design defect present in all 1977 Honda 750 CB motorcycles. In support of his allegation, plaintiff relied upon a recall letter issued by Honda five months prior to the accident. The letter stated that the performance of the rear brake pad was reduced by heavy rain conditions. Although it had not rained the day of the accident, plaintiff had visited a car wash approximately 30 minutes prior to the collision. During the course of the trial, plaintiff called his expert witness, Stanley Klein, to testify. According to Klein, the cause of the accident was uncontrolled braking performance. He further stated that the brakes were wet at the time of the accident based on the “fact that they were washed with a high-pressure hose just a short distance or short time interval prior to the accident.” At the conclusion of all evidence, Honda made a motion for a directed verdict, which was denied. The jury found for plaintiff and awarded him $1,250,000. Nine months later, the district court granted Honda a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or a new trial if the appellate court reversed the JNOV. It was from this order that plaintiff appealed, arguing that the district court's grant of the JNOV was erroneous because the jury's verdict was supported by substantial evidence.

Issue:

Did the district court err in granting JNOV to the motorcycle manufacturer because the jury's verdict was supported by substantial evidence?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court affirmed the decision of the district court and found that the plaintiff failed to establish that the alleged defect caused the accident. The plaintiff’s case depended almost entirely on the testimony of an expert who could only establish that the alleged defect was a possible cause of the accident, not the probable cause. According to the Court, the expert's assumption that the rear brake was wet at the time of the accident because the motorcycle had been washed a short time before, which, in theory, simulated heavy rain conditions, was unsupported by the evidence. The jury was not entitled to give credence to the expert's unsupported conjecture.

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