American National Watermattress Corp. v. Manville, 642 P.2d 1330 (Alaska 1982)

The plaintiff in this case, Florence Manville, purchased a waterbed from retail dealer Jack Pendley. The waterbed was manufactured by American National Watermattress Corporation (ANWC). Manville was injured when her waterbed rolled off its pedestal and pinned her underneath it. She was trapped for over eleven hours and was only able to move her head and one of her hands. She suffered significant injuries from the accident including second and third degree pressure burns on her left arm, second degree burns to her right leg, complete radial palsy in her left arm, and a perineal nerve injury in both legs. She spent a considerable amount of time in the hospital recovering from her injuries and underwent various operations. Due to the accident she was no longer able to work full-time, could not drive, and had difficulty walking.

Manville filed suit against both ANWC and Pendley seeking damages for her injuries alleging negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability. Pendley and Manville settled prior to trial for $60,000, leaving ANWC as the only defendant at trial. The jury returned a verdict for Manville of approximately $150,000, which the trial judge reduced to $105,000, including costs and attorneys’ fees. On appeal, the Alaska Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s computation of the reduction of the jury’s verdict and remanded the case to the trial court for re-computation purposes. The Appeals Court affirmed the trial court on all other issues.

Wassilie v. Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, 816 P.2d 158 (Alaska 1991)

Michael Wassilie had a CB antenna that was not grounded, located near a recently installed overhead electrical system installed by Alaska Village Electric Cooperative (AVEC). The system was installed at the request of the village of Eek. After a storm, Wassilie’s antenna, situated atop a 40 foot tall wooden mast, blew over and landed close enough to AVEC’s power lines that electricity was able to arc between the power lines and the CB antenna. When Wassilie went to pick up the antenna he suffered a severe shock and was knocked unconscious. He received third degree burns on his forearm, palm, and chest and was hospitalized for two weeks. As a result of the accident, he has permanent scarring on his chest and hand, the areas are sensitive to the cold, he suffers from shortness of breath and has periods of tiredness.

Wassilie brought suit against AVEC alleging several theories of negligence, including failure to warn. The court granted AVEC a partial motion for summary judgment, finding Wassilie was comparatively negligent for failing to ground his CB radio and antenna. The case proceeded to trial on the remaining issues and the jury found Wassilie 40% at fault and AVEC 60% at fault. AVEC then moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). The superior court granted AVEC’s motion for JNOV, ruling that it was not foreseeable that Wassilie’s CB antenna would fall near the new overhead lines, therefore AVEC did not have a duty to specifically warn him of the danger posed by his antenna and that even if AVEC did have such a duty, Wassilie failed to prove that any additional warnings would have been effective in changing his behavior. In reviewing the lower court’s ruling, the Supreme Court examined the issue of whether or not the evidence was sufficient for a reasonable juror to determine that AVEC was negligent in failing to warn Wassilie of the danger of having a CB line so close to the power lines. In reviewing the evidence, the court stated that a reasonable jury “may have concluded that the dangerous condition was present before the power lines were installed and energized.” Wassilie, 816 P.2d at 161.

The court then determined if the warnings provided were adequate and if additional warnings would have done any good. The court found that “reasonable jurors could have concluded that AVEC negligently failed to provide explicit warnings.” Id. at 162. Because the court found both that a jury could have concluded that the risk was foreseeable and the warnings inadequate, it reversed the JNOV, then remanded the case to the lower court to rule on the motions for a new trial.

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