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09/01/95 BIC CORPORATION v. SAMUEL L. BEAN III ET

September 1, 1995

BIC CORPORATION
v.
SAMUEL L. BEAN III ET AL.; SAMUEL L. BEAN III AND LEIGH ANN BEAN V. BIC CORPORATION



Appeals from Jefferson Circuit Court. (CV-89-3282). Stuart Leach, TRIAL JUDGE.

Cook, Justice. Shores, Kennedy, and Ingram, JJ., concur. Maddox and Houston, JJ., concur in the result. Maddox, Shores, Houston, Kennedy, and Ingram, JJ., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cook

COOK, JUSTICE.

Pursuant to the Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine ("AEMLD"), the plaintiffs, Samuel L. Bean III, his wife Leigh Ann Bean, and their minor son Luke Bean, filed this wrongful death and products liability action against BIC Corporation ("BIC") and other defendants following a fire that destroyed the Beans' home on February 26, 1988. The fire, which resulted from the Bean children's playing with a butane cigarette lighter manufactured by BIC, injured five-year-old Luke Bean and killed four-year-old Kristi Bean.

Before commencing this action, the Beans began a collateral action against their mortgagees and State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, seeking damages for failure to provide or procure homeowner's insurance on their home. Bean v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 591 So. 2d 17, 19 (Ala. 1991). Eventually, a jury returned a verdict in that case in favor of the Beans against one of the mortgagees for $80,000. Id. at 20.

In the meantime -- on April 25, 1989 -- this AEMLD action was begun against BIC and others. The trial court granted BIC's motion for a partial summary judgment on the Beans' claims that BIC's lighter design was defective and that the BIC lighter failed to carry an appropriate warning. *fn1 On appeal, this Court held that the entry of the partial judgment was "premature." Specifically, as to the issue of alleged design defect, the Court stated:

"Proper and complete discovery would provide the trial court a greater opportunity to further assess this case toward the question of what duty, if any, BIC has to offer the public a child-resistant lighter. Adequate discovery could also provide answers to questions relating to the product's safety when measured against the foreseeability of a danger presented by its use as well as to the feasibility of an alternative design that could avert any danger."

Bean v. BIC Corp., 597 So. 2d 1350, 1352-53 (Ala. 1992).

As to the claims that BIC had provided inadequate warnings regarding the use of the lighter, the Court held:

"We hold that BIC failed to show an absence of a genuine issue of material fact, because the affidavit [of BIC's expert] in support of the motion for summary judgment does not address the reasons the Beans argue that the warning was inadequate. The Beans do not contend that there was no warning, but rather that the warnings given did not adequately apprise them that small children would be attracted to the lighter and that it could be easily operated by small children. Because BIC has failed to show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, as to the allegation of a failure to warn, the summary judgment is due to be reversed."

597 So. 2d at 1353-54.

During the trial following the remand from this Court, the parties agreed to allow the trial court to determine the issue of the Beans' alleged property damage and the amount of the award therefor, if any. The issue of BIC's liability under the AEMLD was to be determined by the jury.

During its deliberations, the jury asked the court whether it could find in favor of the minor children but against the parents. The Judge answered this inquiry in the affirmative, and the jury returned the following verdicts:

"We, the jury, find the issues in favor of the defendant, BIC Corporation, and against the plaintiff, Sam L. Bean III.

"We, the jury, find the issues in favor of the defendant, BIC Corporation, and against the plaintiff, Leigh Ann Bean.

"We, the jury, find in favor of the plaintiff, Sam L. Bean III, as next friend of Luke Bean, a minor, and against the defendant, BIC Corporation, and assess plaintiff's damages at One Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars ($150,000).

"We, the jury, find in favor of the plaintiffs, Sam L. Bean III and Leigh Ann Bean, as parents and personal representatives of the estate of Kristi Bean, and against the defendant, BIC Corporation, and assess plaintiffs' damages at One Hundred Thousand Dollars ($100,000)."

BIC moved for a mistrial on the ground that the verdicts were inconsistent. The trial court denied BIC's motion and entered its judgment on the jury's verdicts on September 30, 1993.

On October 5, 1993, the Beans moved the trial court to enter a judgment on their claim for property damage. They sought "an award of $71,843.29," which, they alleged, represented the value "of jointly held real and personal property damaged or destroyed in the fire." On January 14, 1994, the trial court entered a judgment for the Beans in the amount of $70,000. The court, however, citing the Beans' collateral action in which they had already received $80,000, see Bean v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 591 So. 2d 17 (Ala. 1991), concluded that the $80,000 was due to "be credited against the amount of the [Beans'] recovery against ... BIC ... for damage to the [Beans'] real and personal property." Consequently, it held that the $70,000 judgment entered against BIC was "extinguished by a set-off through the entry and collection of the judgment" recovered in the earlier case. (Emphasis added.)

BIC appeals from those portions of the judgment that are based on the jury verdicts in favor of the injured minor plaintiff, Luke Bean, and in favor of the Beans, as parents of their deceased minor daughter, Kristi Bean. The Beans cross-appeal from that portion of the judgment that effectively awarded them no damages on their property damage claim.

Case No. 1930751 -- BIC's Appeal

BIC argues that the verdicts are inconsistent. More specifically, it contends:

"The jury's findings against Sam and Leigh Ann Bean but in favor of Luke and Kristi Bean are inherently inconsistent and contradictory. Only one liability issue was presented at trial: whether BIC was liable for having manufactured a lighter that was defective and unreasonably dangerous under the AEMLD. By finding that BIC was liable to the children but was not liable to the parents, the jury found that the same ...


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