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Court News Ohio

Fifth District: $975,000 Verdict Upheld for Man Injured by Hunting Arrow

One of the world’s largest manufacturers of hunting arrows must pay $975,000 that a Stark County jury awarded to a man who had an arrow embed in his hand when attempting to shoot it, an Ohio appeals court ruled.

In a 2-1 decision, the Fifth District Court of Appeals last week affirmed  a Stark County Common Pleas Court decision in favor of Rick Pratt of Massillon, who sustained the bow-shooting injury in 2009, and successfully claimed a manufacturing defect against Easton Technical Products of Utah.

Easton lists on its website that it revolutionized the sport of archery in the 1940s, with the invention of aluminum arrows and it claims its shafts “are used by more bowhunters, crossbowmen, 3D competitors, target shooters and Olympic archery competitors than all other brands combined.”

In 2009, Pratt attempted to launch a Beman ICS 400 arrow, and was injured when the arrow broke and part of it embedded in his hand. In 2011, he filed a lawsuit against Easton on several grounds, including defective design, inadequate warnings, and manufacturing-design defects. The court threw out all claims by Pratt, except the manufacturing-design defect, and the case was heard by a jury in June 2013. The jury found for Pratt and awarded $246,000 in economic damages and $750,000 in non-economic damages for a total of $966,000, but it was later reduced by $21,000 to account for the funds he received for medical care from insurance payments.

Easton appealed the judgment to the Fifth District on several grounds, including the contention that the jury was not property instructed on how Pratt’s actions contributed to his injury and that the jury heard too much criticism of Easton’s expert witness before the expert testified.

Easton told the appeals court that more than a year before the jury trial the company emailed the court magistrate a proposed jury instruction explaining contributory negligence. Easton maintains that Pratt was partly responsible for the injury because he failed to conduct a field test of the arrow that included a “visual inspection, a flex test and a twist test.” It complained its instruction was never provided to the jury.

Writing for the Fifth District, Judge Patricia A. Delaney wrote the court record provided to the appeals court didn’t include the emailed version and when Easton filed proposed jury instructions in July 2013, as the jury was about the consider the case, it did not request a contributory negligence instruction. Judge Delany also indicated Easton never raised the issue when the judge in the case requested comments on the jury instructions.

In general, if an objection to a jury instruction is not raised at the trial, an appeals court will not consider the objection, except in rare cases when the basic fairness of the proceedings would be in question, Judge Delaney explained. The Fifth District ruled this case was not a rare exception, and that Easton missed its chance to object.

Easton also objected to the trial court allowing Pratt’s expert witness, Daniel Greene of Atlanta, to testify early in the trial, not only to his opinion about the arrow, but also to comment on the opinions of Joseph Rakow, Easton’s expert witness. Judge Delaney explained it is common in product-defect cases that expert witnesses conduct research and supply their findings to the other side prior to the trial. At trial, an expert witness is supposed to testify only to their own research until both sides get to testify, and then the experts may criticize their opponent’s research.

Because Greene was from out of town, and going by the process would have required him to stay a week in town, or go home and return a week later, the trial court judge allowed Greene to criticize Rakow’s findings when he first testified. Judge Delaney wrote that because Rakow was allowed to testify later and confirm his research, Easton was not substantially prejudiced by not following the typical sequence.

The appellate court also rejected Easton’s argument that Pratt’s attorney attempted on several occasions to alert the jury that Easton was sued in similar defective-arrow cases in the past, even after the judge warned against it. While Easton asked the judge to declare a mistrial, the judge instead held the attorney in contempt of court and fined him $250. The judge told the jury about the fine and informed them to disregard the questioning about other arrow cases.

Judge Delaney wrote that while wrong to introduce the other similar incidents (OSI) evidence, it was not enough to warrant a new trial.

“Furthermore, upon review of the entire transcript of this matter, we find the few references to OSI evidence was harmless in light of the tremendous volume of testimony heard over the weeklong trial,” she wrote.

Judge William B. Hoffman concurred in the decision.

Judge Craig R. Baldwin agreed that Easton could not question the contributory negligence instruction, but he dissented on the final ruling. He maintained, rather, that the amount of evidence from other cases did warrant a new trial and also argued that allowing Greene to rebut Rakow’s testimony, before Rakow was allowed to testify, substantially compromised Easton’s defense.

“The end result was that Rakow was discredited before he ever took the stand and the veracity of his opinions were attacked,” he said.

Pratt v. Easton Technical Prods., Inc., 2015-Ohio-3180
Civil Appeal From: Stark County Common Pleas Court
Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: Aug. 3, 2015

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