Slee v. Erhard, decision, United States Court of Appeals (1993)
Slee v. Erhard
Docket No. 93-7180
ISSUED AS MANDATE.
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
SEP 8 1993
ELAINE B. GOLDSMITH CLERK
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT
At a stated term of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, held at the United States Courthouse in the City of New York, on the 8th day of September, one thousand nine hundred and ninety-three.
PRESENT: HONORABLE JON O. Newman,
HONORABLE ROGER J. MINER,
HONORABLE JOSEPH M. McLAUGHLIN,
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ALFRIEDA SLEE, ADMINISTRATRIX OF
THE ESTATE OF JACK ANDREW SLEE,
WERNER ERHARD, WERNER ERHARD &
ASSOCIATES, and DAVID NORRIS,
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Appeal from the Untied States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Jose A. Cabranes, Chief Judge).
This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of record from the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut and was argued by counsel.
ON CONSIDERATION WHEREOF, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the judgment of the District Court be and it hereby is AFFIRMED.
Alfrieda Slee (“Slee”), administratrix of the estate of her son Jack Slee, appeals from an October 9th, 1992, judgment, after a jury trial, in favor of Werner Erhard, Werner Erhard & Associates, and David Norris (“Erhard”) as well as from a January 25, 1993, order denying Slee’s motion for judgment n.o.v. or a new trial. On appeal, Slee argues that Judge Cabranes made a range of errors while conducting the jury trial, including the admission of certain evidence, the charge to the jury, and responses to jury questions during deliberations.
Over the weekend of August 13 & 14, 1983, Jack Slee, an apparently healthy 26-year-old, attended a seminar known as the est standard training conducted by Erhard in New Haven, Connecticut. Sometime after 11:00 PM on August 14, Jack collapsed while engaged in an est training exercise and died from a cardiac injury a few hours later. Slee initiated a wrongful death action against Erhard; counts of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress were ultimately submitted to a jury. The jury found Erhard to have been negligent and to have intentionally inflicted emotional distress but did not find Erhard’s actions to have been the proximate cause of Jack’s death and therefore found for Erhard on all counts.
1. Slee first complains that Judge Cabranes erred by denying her pretrial motion to exclude the testimony of certain expert witnesses as prejudicial and confusing because they were going to (and in fact did) refer to the “predictability” of Jack’s death. Evidentiary rulings will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion, and even errors will not justify overturning a verdict unless affirmance would be inconsistent with substantial justice. See, e.g., Healey v. Chelsea Resources, Ltd., 947 F. 2d 611, 619-20 (2d Cir. 1991) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 61). Though Erhard’s medical experts may have created an element of confusion by not employing precise legal terminology, the admission of their testimony does not amount to an abuse of the trial court’s broad discretion.
2. Slee next asserts error in the charge to the jury, suggesting the District Court misstated the law in two ways: (a) by suggesting that plaintiff had to prove that Jack’s death must have been the “likely result” of the est training and that his death (rather than a more generalized harm) must have been foreseeable for Slee to recover, and (b) by referring the jury to a negligence standard of proximate cause when asked about the proper proximate cause standard for a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. However, the trial court has discretion in the style and wording of jury instructions and a charge is considered sufficient if “taken as a whole and viewed in light of the evidence [it] show[s] no tendency to confuse or mislead the jury as to the principles of law which are applicable.” Norfleet v. Isthmian Lines, Inc., 355 F.2d 359, 362-63 (2d Cir. 1966). See also, e.g., Care Travel Co. v. Pan American World Airways, 944 F. 2d 983, 996 (2d Cir. 1991). Though perhaps the charge could have been written better, most of the language came directly from Connecticut decisions on state tort law, and viewed in its entirety it sufficiently presented the issues to the jury for fair consideration.
3. Slee also argues that since the jury specifically found Erhard intentionally inflicted emotional distress, she is entitled to a damage award on this claim even though the jury also found that this claim seems to be waived, since Slee requested the additional jury instruction regarding proximate cause and thus apparently did not present at trial the claim that damages were due simply for whatever emotional distress Jack may have experienced before he died. Further, the trial record seems to lack any substantive evidence that Jack did in fact suffer emotional distress before his sudden death.
4. Finally, Slee contends cumulative error – the errors asserted above as well as the fact that the jury did not have the proper verdict form until the third day of deliberations and because, she claims, the jury’s final verdict is itself inconsistent – justify reversal. As partially detailed above, it is unclear whether there were any significant errors in the first instance, and whatever minor errors may have occurred with the jury form or elsewhere were not sufficiently consequential to justify overturning the jury’s verdict.
[signature, Jon O. Newman]
[signature, Roger J. Miner]
[signature, Joseph M. McLaughlin]
A TRUE COPY
ELAINE B. GOLDSMITH, Clerk
Chief Deputy Clerk
N.B. THIS SUMMARY ORDER WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED IN THE FEDERAL REPORTER AND SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR OTHERWISE RELIED UPON IN UNRELATED CASES BEFORE THIS OR ANY OTHER COURT.