US Court of Appeals Considers Relevant Topics of Cross-Examination at Trial

Allen Plyler had purchased and installed a Whirlpool microwave oven for his home. Seven years later, in October 2006, Plyer used the microwave to heat up some food. Eight hours later, Plyer was awakened by a fire that began in the microwave. He tried to put out the fire but suffered physical and emotional injuries.

As a result of his injuries, Plyler filed a lawsuit against Whirlpool claiming strict product liability and negligent recall. At trial, the Whirlpool global product safety director testified about the defect in some microwaves that Whirlpool had recalled. The corporate product safety director testified that the microwave would catch fire only if it contained food splatters and was running immediately before the fire. Plyler testified at trial that the microwave was clean and wasn’t in use before the fire started.

The jury found in favor of Whirlpool on both the claim for strict product liability and negligent recall; Plyler moved for a new trial. The federal magistrate judge who considered the post-trial motion for a new trial concluded that a rational jury could have accepted the product safety director’s testimony, combined with Plyler’s testimony about the state of the microwave, and could conclude that Whirlpool was not responsible for Plyler’s injuries. The court also noted that the jury could have reasonably rejected Plyler’s argument that Whirlpool should have made additional efforts to notify him of the recall.

Lastly, in Plyler’s motion for a new trial, he argued that the court was in error by allowing Whirlpool’s lawyers to question him about his divorce. This divorce occurred after the fire. The court ruled that the questioning was allowable because Plyler was alleging emotional distress as a result of the fire.

The court denied Plyler’s motion for a new trial, and he took this appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The appeals court found that there was enough evidence for a jury to conclude that the microwave by itself was not the source of the fire. Therefore, it was reasonable for the jury to reject both the negligent recall and strict liability claims that Plyler brought in his lawsuit.

At last, the appeals panel addressed the issue of the relevance of the cross-examining of Plyer during trial about his divorce. Plyler argued that his divorce did not contribute to his claim of emotional distress that followed the fire. Plyler maintained that questioning him about his divorce was irrelevant. The Court of Appeals disagreed finding that the questioning was relevant because Whirlpool was entitled to explore whether despite Plyler’s denial, other sources, such as his divorce, were the cause of his emotional distress rather than the fire. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the decisions reached in the lower court and entered its opinion.

Allen Plyler v. Whirlpool Corporation, No. 12-2798 (U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Cir., May 5, 2014).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling product defect cases, car accident cases, pharmaceutical defect cases and medical device defect cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Melrose Park, Maywood, Schaumburg, Hillside, Elmwood Park, Elmhurst, Clarendon Hills, Western Springs, St. Charles, Lemont, Niles, Chicago (Pill Hill, Pilsen, Printer’s Row, Rogers Park) and Lincolnshire, Ill.

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