United States District Court, D. Maryland
DEBORAH K. CHASANOW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
pending and ready for resolution in this case is the motion
for a new trial filed by Plaintiff Laura Demaria
(“Plaintiff”). (ECF No. 83). The issues have been
briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed
necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, the
motion will be denied.
argues that the unrefuted evidence at trial showed Defendant
Target Corporation (“Defendant”) knew about a
danger, refused to eliminate the danger, and lacked a good
reason for its refusal, and, therefore, the verdict finding
Defendant not liable was against the weight of the evidence
and Plaintiff should receive a new trial pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 59. (ECF No. 83, at 5) (“Since
Target's reason for not eliminating the danger has no
merit, the overwhelming weight of the evidence demonstrates
that Target's deliberate choice to not eliminate the
danger was unreasonable.”). Defendant does not dispute
the foreseeability of an injury but argues that its decision
was reasonable considering all relevant factors. (ECF No. 85,
diversity actions, a district court applies the substantive
law and choice of law rules of the state in which the court
sits. Padco Advisors, Inc. v. Omdahl, 179 F.Supp.2d
600, 605 (D.Md. 2002) (citing Erie R.R. Co. v.
Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938)). In a tort action,
Maryland law requires applying “the substantive tort
law of the state where the wrong occurs.” Hauch v.
Connor, 295 Md. 120, 123 (1983). The accident in this
case occurred in Maryland, and, therefore, Maryland law
applies. See id. Maryland law does not, however,
govern procedural rules in this court, even when jurisdiction
is based on diversity, and it does not apply when there is
conflicting federal law.
Maryland law, “the proprietor of a store is not an
insurer of his customers while they are on the premises,
” and “no presumption of negligence on the part
of the proprietor arises merely from showing that an injury
was sustained in his store.” Rawls v. Hochschild,
Kohn & Co., 207 Md. 113, 118-19 (1955). Even where a
defendant knows of a danger and does not eliminate it, a
defendant is not liable unless allowing the danger to persist
was unreasonable. Giant Food, Inc. v. Mitchell, 334
Md. 633, 642 (1994) (“‘Even though the
intervening cause may be regarded as foreseeable, the
defendant is not liable unless the defendant's conduct
has created or increased an unreasonable risk of harm through
its intervention.'” (quoting W.P. Keeton,
Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 44, at
305 (5th ed. 1984))).
motion for a new trial under Rule 59, a district court must
“set aside the verdict and grant a new trial if . . .
the verdict is against the clear weight of the
evidence[.]” Knussman v. Maryland, 272 F.3d
625, 639 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Atlas Food
Sys. & Servs., Inc. v. Crane Nat'l Vendors,
Inc., 99 F.3d 587, 594 (4th Cir. 1996).
“[O]n a motion for new trial under Rule 59(e) a
district court is permitted to weigh the evidence.”
Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc., 290
F.3d 639, 650 (4th Cir. 2002). “[T]he
district court has a duty to order a new trial to prevent an
injustice.” Johnson & Towers Balt., Inc. v.
Vessel Hunter, 824 F.Supp. 562, 566 (D.Md. 1992).
However, “‘[c]ourts do not grant new trials
unless it is reasonably clear that prejudicial error has
crept into the record or that substantial justice has not
been done.'” 11 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R.
Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 2803
(3d ed. 2017). The decision to grant or deny a new trial
rests with the discretion of the district court. Wilhelm
v. Blue Bell, Inc., 773 F.2d 1429, 1433 (4th
Plaintiff and Defendant agreed that some risk of harm existed
and that the risk was foreseeable. (ECF No. 85, at 4)
(“Target did not dispute that it was foreseeable at the
time of the accident that a customer could place a cart onto
the down escalator.”). The parties disagreed whether
the risk was unreasonable, and Plaintiff had the burden of
establishing at trial that the risk was unreasonable by a
preponderance of the evidence. (Id. at 3-5);
Kruvat v. Dickerman, 18 Md.App. 1, 3-4 (1973).
Plaintiff offered an expert who testified that Defendant
acted unreasonably in designing its escalator because
Defendant could have eliminated any risk. Defendant offered
an expert who testified that the design plan for the
escalator reflected a careful balancing of different safety
concerns and that the risk was not unreasonable because any
potential fix would create other safety issues. Facing this