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Finchum v. Ford Motor Company

June 8, 1995

RICHARD AND SANDRA FINCHUM,

PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,

v.

FORD MOTOR COMPANY AND KIA MOTORS CORPORATION,

DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division.

No. IP 92 394 C--S. Hugh Dillin, Judge.

Before ESCHBACH, COFFEY, and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.

ESCHBACH, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED JANUARY 10, 1995

SUBMITTED MAY 8, 1995 *fn1

DECIDED JUNE 8, 1995

Richard and Sandra Finchum were waiting in their 1989 Ford Festiva to make a left turn at an intersection when their car was rear-ended. To recover for the injuries they suffered due to their car's allegedly defective design, the Finchums sued their car's makers, Ford Motor Company ("Ford") and Kia Motors Corporation ("Kia") in diversity under Indiana law. After a jury verdict in favor of the defendants, the Finchums appealed from the jury verdict, primarily on the basis of certain evidentiary rulings, and from the district court's award of costs. Because we do not find that the district court judge abused his discretion in making those rulings, we affirm.

I.

On March 6, 1990, the Finchum's 1989 Ford Festiva was rear-ended while the Finchum's were waiting to make a left turn at an intersection in Columbus, Indiana. David Allway was driving his car approximately 25-31 miles per hour when it hit the Finchum's car. The Festiva was jolted forward with a resultant change of velocity ("delta v") of approximately 16-19 miles per hour. The force of the collision caused the Festiva's seats to release from the seat tracks and rotate rearward. As a result, the Finchums, who were wearing their seatbelts, remained in their seats, but the position of the seat left them lying on their backs. After the wreck, Mr. Finchum unbuckled his seat belt and attempted to walk around the car to check on his wife. Stiffness in his legs, however, hampered his walking and he experienced additional pain in his shoulders, back and calves. With the assistance of the medics, Mr. Finchum was able to ride to the hospital sitting up. He was released after being given pain medication.

Soon after the wreck, Mr. Finchum returned to his position as a master plumber. He experienced difficulties, however, with his walking and balance and he saw various health care providers in an attempt to remedy this condition. He was only able to continue working through the assistance of his co-workers. Eventually, the discovery that several discs were bulging into his spinal column forced him to quit working and undergo surgery in November 1990.

In March 1992, the Finchums brought this action in state court and the defendants removed it to federal court. On July 21, 1993, the court granted the Finchums leave to amend their complaint to add a punitive damages claim. Before trial, the Finchums elected to proceed solely on the issue of strict liability, dismissing their claims of negligence and breach of warranty. The case was tried to a jury from April 18 until April 28, 1994. At the close of the Finchums' case, the defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law was granted as to the Finchums' punitive damages claim. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendants and the Finchums filed a timely notice of appeal.

II.

A. Appeal No. 94-2277

This appeal rests almost exclusively on the propriety of certain evidentiary rulings made by the district court judge during the course of the trial. *fn2 Although this is a diversity case under Indiana law, the evidentiary issues raised by the Finchums are governed according to federal law. See Klonowski v. International Armament Corp., 17 F.3d 992, 995 (7th Cir. 1994). The Finchums are faced with "an onerous burden 'because a reviewing court gives special deference to the evidentiary rulings of the trial court.' " Berry v. Deloney, 28 F.3d ...


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