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Overturning a post-trial decision to grant judgment to the maker of a child’s auto safety seat, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on March 31 ruled that the trial judge had usurped the jury’s right to draw a crucial inference from the evidence presented. The ruling returns to the courtroom a case filed by Dennis and Melissa Edic against Century Products�a division of Graco Children’s Products Inc.�after their 18-month-old son, Dylan, sustained a serious head injury in a car accident. Edic v. Century Products Co., No. 03-10486. According to Dennis Edic, Dylan had been strapped into a child safety restraint system in the couple’s Volvo wagon. But when the wagon was struck broadside by another car traveling at 40 mph, the boy slipped free of the restraint system, struck his head on the roof of the Volvo and sustained a fractured skull. The Edics sued Century, Graco and the corporate parent, Newell-Rubbermaid Corp., alleging that Dylan was ejected from the restraint because it was defective. They asserted that because of the ejection, the boy suffered injuries worse than those he might have sustained from the collision alone. Century countered that Dylan had not been properly strapped in. After trial, U.S. District Judge Patricia C. Fawsett granted judgment as a matter of law to Century, finding that the Edics had not proven that the ejection enhanced the boy’s injuries. She also ruled that the Edics had not adduced sufficient proof to invoke Florida’s Cassisi inference. Taking its name from a 1981 Florida appeals court case, Cassisi v. Maytag Co., 396 So.2d 1140, Cassisi allows a jury to infer that a product is defective when it malfunctions during normal use. At trial, Dennis Edic and others testified that immediately after the crash, Dylan was found in the back of the car, outside the restraint system. Patricia Merritt, who was driving behind the Edics, testified that she saw Dylan fly into the air at the moment of impact and strike the right side of his head on the car’s ceiling. The boy’s treating neurosurgeon corroborated her statement. But, agreeing with one defense expert, Fawsett stated that the accident happened too quickly for Merritt to have seen Dylan hit the roof. She also gave credence to another Century expert who said that Dylan’s injuries were caused on impact while he was still restrained. According to 11th Circuit Judge Stanley F. Birch Jr., however, “although the district judge stated that she did not need to ‘get into [Merritt's] credibility,’ the greater part of her discussion did precisely that,” as she “weighed Merritt’s recollection of the events against the [defense] experts’ testimony regarding the timing of events.” Given the Edics’ evidence, Birch wrote, “the jury did not need an expert to make the causal connection between Dylan’s ejectment and his head injury.” Moreover, he added, for Cassisi purposes, the issue of whether a 40 mph collision constituted normal use was one for the jury.

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