The Supreme Court of New Hampshire




March 18, 1998

Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A., of Nashua ( John P. Griffith and Robert D. Lietz on the brief, and Mr. Lietz orally), for the plaintiff.

Hall, Morse, Anderson, Miller & Spinella, P.C., of Concord ( Douglas J. Miller on the brief), and Donahue & Donahue, of Lowell, Massachusetts ( Joseph D. Regan orally), for the defendant.

JOHNSON, J. The defendant, Sears, Roebuck & Company (Sears), appeals the verdict reached in this products liability case following a jury trial in Superior Court ( Brennan, J.). Sears asserts that the trial court erred in denying Sears' motions for directed verdict, in allowing one of the plaintiffs' witnesses to testify as an expert, in admitting into evidence an exemplar pictograph warning, in precluding Sears' counsel from conducting cross-examination about a prior lawsuit arising out of the same incident, in allowing a medical journal article to be introduced into evidence, and in denying Sears' motions for contribution and costs. We affirm.

This action was brought by Peter and Lynn Laramie, individually and on behalf of their minor daughter, Emma Laramie, for damages arising out of an incident in which Emma sustained serious scald burns while being bathed in a kitchen sink. The plaintiffs alleged counts of negligence, failure to warn, and strict liability against Sears as seller of the dishwasher that plaintiffs claimed caused their daughter's injuries.

From the evidence presented at trial, the jury could have found the following facts. On the evening of October 28, 1991, the Laramies had dinner at their apartment in Nashua. After the dishes had been cleared away and the dishwasher started, Mrs. Laramie proceeded to bathe nine-month-old Emma in the kitchen sink. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Laramie could remember at trial whether either of them had cleared the garbage disposal after dinner that night. While Mrs. Laramie was bathing Emma, wastewater from the dishwasher backed up into the sink causing Emma to sustain a full-thickness burn to her perineal area that required skin grafting.

At trial, the plaintiffs argued that Sears was negligent in failing to warn them that scalding hot water from the dishwasher could back up into the sink and that Sears was strictly liable for their damages because the lack of such a warning made the dishwasher unreasonably dangerous. Sears counterclaimed, arguing that if found liable, it was entitled to full indemnification or contribution from Mr. and Mrs. Laramie because they were negligent in bathing Emma. The jury found for the plaintiffs on the negligence claim and awarded Emma $40,000 for her injuries. The jury awarded nothing, however, to Mr. and Mrs. Laramie for their individual claims, and found for Sears on the strict liability claim. The jury also found that Mr. and Mrs. Laramie were negligent and attributed eighty-five percent of the total negligence to them and fifteen percent to Sears. The jury ruled against Sears, however, on its counterclaim.

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