Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Coterel v. Dorel Juvenile Group, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 5, 2016

James Coterel; Crystal Naylor Plaintiffs - Appellants
Dorel Juvenile Group, Inc., doing business as Safety 1st Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: February 9, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri - Jefferson City

          Before RILEY, Chief Judge, LOKEN and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

          RILEY, Chief Judge.

         James 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 court[1]denied. The appellants appeal, and we affirm.[2]

         I. BACKGROUND

         In the 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.[3] 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 own.

         On the 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.

         At 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.

         The 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.

         On 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.[4] 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.

         Relying 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.

         Before 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 negligence claims.

         The 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.

         At 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 ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.