Weisgram v. Marley Co., 528 U.S. 440 (2000)

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WEISGRAM et al. v. MARLEY CO. et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eighth circuit

No. 99-161. Argued January 18, 2000—Decided February 22, 2000

Bonnie Weisgram died of carbon monoxide poisoning during a fire in her home. Her son, petitioner Chad Weisgram, individually and on behalf of her heirs (hereinafter Weisgram), brought this diversity action in the District Court seeking wrongful death damages. Weisgram alleged that a defect in a heater, manufactured by defendant (now respondent) Marley Company and located in Bonnie Weisgram's home, caused both the fire and her death. At trial, Weisgram introduced the testimony of three witnesses, proffered as experts, in an endeavor to prove the alleged heater defect and its causal connection to the fire. The District Court overruled Marley's objections that this testimony was unreliable and therefore inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 as elucidated by Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U. S. 579. At the close of Weisgram's evidence, and again at the close of all the evidence, Marley unsuccessfully moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a) for judgment as a matter of law on the ground that plaintiffs had failed to meet their burden of proof on the issues of defect and causation. The jury returned a verdict for Weisgram. Marley again requested judgment as a matter of law, and additionally requested, in the alternative, a new trial, pursuant to Rules 50 and 59; among arguments in support of its post-trial motions, Marley reasserted that the expert testimony essential to prove Weisgram's case was unreliable and therefore inadmissible. The District Court denied the motions and entered judgment for Weisgram. The Eighth Circuit panel held that Marley's motion for judgment as a matter of law should have been granted because the testimony of Weisgram's expert witnesses, the sole evidence supporting the product defect charge, was speculative and not shown to be scientifically sound, and was therefore incompetent to prove plaintiffs' case. The court then considered the remaining evidence in the light most favorable to Weisgram, found it insufficient to support the jury verdict, and directed judgment as a matter of law for Marley. Although recognizing its discretion to remand for a new trial under Rule 50(d), the court rejected any contention that it was required to do so, stating that this was not a close case, plaintiffs had had a fair opportunity to prove their strict liability claim, they failed to do so, and there was no reason to give them a second chance.

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