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Law School Case Brief

Mem'l Hosp. of S. Bend, Inc. v. Scott - 261 Ind. 27, 300 N.E.2d 50 (1973)

Rule:

The trial court's action in granting a new trial is given a strong presumption of correctness. The trial judge is more than a mere umpire. The judge's duties extend beyond the bounds of confining the evidence to the issues and instructing the jury on the law of the case. It is the judge's duty to hear the case along with the jury. The trial judge has the duty to observe witnesses and note the level of their intelligence and wisdom together with their independence or lack of it, their prejudice or lack of it concerning matters about which they testified, and to note their bias, prejudice, their interest, or lack of interest. In short, it is his duty to keep his eyes and ears open to what was going on during the trial so that, when confronted with a motion for a new trial, he can pass upon the purely legal questions involved in the case as well as determine the weight and sufficiency of the evidence to sustain the verdict. There are many things the trial judge must take in consideration in determining the weight of conflicting evidence and passing upon the question of the preponderance thereof which make his duty in the first instance entirely different from that of an appellate tribunal as a court of review for at the appellate level the court has only the record and briefs exemplified by the cold type before us.

Facts:

Plaintiff Scott, a multiple sclerosis patient, was severely burned while using a hospital toilet when he accidentally activated a hot water knob for a bed pan flusher that was located near the toilet flusher. In the patient's negligence action, the jury returned a negative verdict on the issue of the hospital's negligence. The trial court granted the patient a new trial against the hospital by sustaining his motion to correct errors because the hospital was negligent and the patient was not contributorily negligent. The lower appellate court reversed the trial court's judgment. The patient petitioned the court for transfer of his cause.

Issue:

Should the plaintiff’s request for transfer of his cause and a new trial be granted?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court granted the transfer and awarded the patient a new trial. The Court held that the lower appellate court erred by ignoring the strong presumption of correctness accorded a trial court's action in granting a new trial. The Court held that, where the patient was suffering from physical infirmities that impaired his ability to function as an ordinary reasonable man, the proper test to apply in considering the issue of contributory negligence was the test of a reasonable man under the same disabilities and infirmities in like circumstances.

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