Submitted: February 9, 2016
from United States District Court for the Western District of
Missouri - Jefferson City
RILEY, Chief Judge, LOKEN and BENTON, Circuit Judges.
Coterel and Crystal Naylor's (appellants)
twenty-three-month-old son, Jacob Coterel, tragically drowned
in a pond after climbing out of his crib and leaving their
home in the middle of the night. The appellants sued Dorel
Juvenile Group, Inc. (Dorel) for wrongful death under
Missouri law, alleging product liability and negligence
arising from a doorknob cover Dorel designed and manufactured
and the appellants used. See Mo. Rev. Stat. §
537.080 (wrongful death). After a six-day trial, a jury
unanimously found Dorel was not liable for Jacob's death.
The appellants moved for a new trial, see
Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)(A), which the district
The appellants appeal, and we affirm.
fall of 2008, the appellants received a doorknob cover,
designed and manufactured by Dorel, as a gift at a baby
shower for Jacob. As Jacob got older, the appellants began to
use the doorknob cover on the front door of their home to
stop Jacob from opening the door. Months later and a week or two before
the accident, the appellants also installed a chain lock on
the front door when Jacob began to get out of his crib on his
night of November 28, 2010, Naylor took Jacob to the
emergency room with a fever. By the time they returned home
around midnight, Coterel and Skylin, the appellants'
daughter, had already gone to bed. Naylor put Jacob to bed in
his crib and spoke with her brother, who was visiting, before
going to bed herself. Naylor testified she locked the tab
lock on the doorknob when she went to bed, but forgot to
latch the new chain lock.
approximately 6:00 a.m. the next morning, Coterel awoke to
find the front door open and Jacob missing. After a frantic
search, he found Jacob floating face down in a pond fifty
yards away. Efforts to revive Jacob proved unsuccessful, and
he died at the hospital a few hours later. The appellants
testified that when they returned home, they discovered the
doorknob cover on the floor in two pieces.
Missouri Department of Social Services assigned Deborah Adair
to investigate Jacob's death. On November 30, 2010, Adair
interviewed Coterel and Naylor about the accident. Adair
noted in her written investigation report that Coterel told
her Jacob had learned how to defeat the doorknob cover, which
prompted the appellants to install the chain lock to keep
Jacob in the home. At trial, Coterel denied making that
statement, testifying Adair may have
"misinterpreted" him. Investigators concluded
Jacob's death was a tragic accident.
October 16, 2013, the appellants sued Dorel for wrongful
death based on theories of product liability and negligence.
Dorel answered, asserting, among others, affirmative defenses
of comparative fault and sole cause. On February 3, 2015, about a month
before trial, Dorel moved the district court pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(c)(2) to treat its
comparative-fault defense as a counterclaim for contribution.
The district court denied the motion, indicating by text
entry that the time to bring a counterclaim under the
scheduling order had expired.
on that ruling and Teeter v. Missouri Highway &
Transportation Commission, 891 S.W.2d 817, 819 (Mo.
1995) (en banc), in which the Missouri Supreme Court decided
a defendant could not invoke comparative-fault principles to
reduce its liability "on account of the fault of one of
several beneficiaries of a wrongful death action, " the
appellants moved in limine to exclude any reference or
argument relating to any comparative fault of the appellants.
The district court granted the motion.
trial, the parties disputed whether evidence of the
appellants' failure to secure the chain lock and
appellants' prior knowledge of Jacob's ability to
defeat the doorknob cover was nonetheless relevant to
Dorel's defense. In support of exclusion, the appellants
argued their actions were, at most, contributing causes Dorel
could not raise-not sole cause. The appellants further argued
admitting such evidence would be prejudicial because the
verdict form did not provide a mechanism for the jury to
apportion fault. Dorel maintained the evidence was relevant
to its sole-cause defense and central to its ability to
controvert the appellants' product-liability and
district court ruled the evidence admissible and consistently
overruled the appellants' relevance objections at trial.
The district court also overruled the appellants' hearsay
objection to Adair's testimony regarding Coterel's
statement that Jacob knew how to defeat the doorknob cover.
trial, the appellants urged the jury to find Dorel
"directly caused or directly contributed to cause"
Jacob's death. The appellants argued the doorknob cover
was defective and unreasonably dangerous under normal use and
that Dorel negligently designed and ...