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Lawsuit Award Thrown Out Because Of ‘Unforeseeable’ Error

December 10, 1987

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) _ A veteran court reporter says it was her error, not a judge’s, that prompted the Michigan Court of Appeals to toss out a $280,000 damage award.

The appeals court last month ordered a new trial in a negligence suit filed by Caroline Fritz of Marne, who was rendered legally blind in her left eye in 1979 when she was struck by a stone thrown by a lawn mower.

The judges said Circuit Judge George Boucher was quoted in court transcripts as telling jurors that manufacturers have a duty to eliminate ″unforeseeable″ risks when he meant to instruct them about a manufacturer’s duty to eliminate ″foreseeable″ risks.

Elaine Goodspeed, a court reporter for 20 years, checked her shorthand notes of the October 1985 trial and found that Boucher did indeed use the correct word. But the error apparently came when the notes were typed, she said.

″If they had checked with me, it would have been so simple,″ she said.

Fritz’s lawyer, Donald Turner, has asked the state appeals court to reconsider its decision. ″I think it would be a travesty of justice,″ if it is not, he said.

But John Buchanan, the lawyer representing the Snappy Power Equipment Division of Fuqua Industries Inc., noted that the justices cited one other trial error.

They said Turner improperly appealed to the jury’s sympathy when he asked whether someone would ″sell the sight of one eye for a million dollars.″

The appeals court cautioned Turner not to make the same remark in a retrial, but didn’t say whether the error was a factor in the reversal.

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