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Averbach v. Rival Manufacturing Co.

argued: April 18, 1989.

SYLVIA AVERBACH, APPELLANT
v.
RIVAL MANUFACTURING COMPANY



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil No. 85-2794.

Seitz*fn*, Sloviter, and Greenberg, Circuit Judges

Author: Sloviter

Opinion OF THE COURT

SLOVITER, Circuit Judge

Appellant, Sylvia Averbach, brought this suit alleging that appellee, Rival Manufacturing Company, had committed common law fraud in filing false answers to interrogatories in a prior product liability action between the parties which Averbach lost. The district court in this case entered a judgment notwithstanding the verdict for Rival following the jury's responses to special interrogatories in a bifurcated trial. The principal issue before us is whether the jury could properly have found that Averbach relied on Rival's answers to interrogatories in the prior action.

I.

Facts and Procedural History

In 1977, Averbach suffered a fire in her home which she claimed was caused by an electric can opener with a design defect that allegedly caused continuous running, overheating, and ignition of the appliance. The can opener was manufactured by Rival. Averbach filed a product liability suit against Rival in the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleging more than $200,000 in damages and invoking that court's diversity jurisdiction. One of the interrogatories propounded by Averbach to Rival read:

40. If the defendant has within the past five years received any complaints of an occurrence similar to those allegedly experienced by the plaintiff, please state for each such complaint:

(a) Its date;

(b) Its substance, including a description of the factual circumstances;

(c) The name and address of the person making the complaint.

App. at 65.

Rival's response was:

40. a. December 7, 1976.

b. The claim was for property damage to a house. It was alleged that a Rival Model 731/1 Can Opener/Knife Sharpener caused a fire. The evidence did not support the claimant's allegations, the claim was denied by the Company and dropped by the Claimant.

App. at 75.

The case was tried before a jury, which returned a verdict in favor of Rival in June 1981, from which Averbach did not appeal.

In September 1984, Averbach filed a motion for a new trial under Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b) on the ground that she had recently received information showing that Rival falsely answered her Interrogatory Question No. 40, referring to records of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) with respect to numerous complaints about fires caused by Rival's can openers during the period specified in the interrogatory. The district court denied the motion because it was not filed within one year after judgment as required for ...


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