Product Liability, Publications

Seventh Circuit Bars Plaintiff's Last Minute Change in Theory of Products Case

July 1, 2011

In Aldridge v. Forest River, Inc., et al., 635 F.3rd 870 (2011), plaintiff filed a strict product liability lawsuit arising out of injuries allegedly sustained while the plaintiff was descending the steps of her recreational vehicle.  Throughout the course of the litigation, plaintiff had maintained that it was a step controller, installed on the vehicle, which was the “defective product” and the proximate cause of her injuries at issue in the litigation.  Just before trial, plaintiff sought to amend her complaint to add allegations asserting that the recreational vehicle itself was the defective product at issue in the litigation.  The trial judge granted defendant's motion in limine barring the plaintiff from arguing to the jury that the recreational vehicle as a whole, as opposed to the step controller, was the defective product at issue in the lawsuit.  The District Court also denied plaintiff's eleventh hour request to amend her Complaint to add allegations with respect to the recreational vehicle, finding that the amendment would have required reopening discovery and postponing the trial.

In affirming the trial court's decision, the Seventh Circuit found that the District Court was well within its discretion to deny plaintiff's motion seeking to amend the complaint. The court noted that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(b)(2) permits the amendment of a pleading during trial if "issues not raised by the pleadings are tried by express or implied consent."  The court further noted that the District Court must determine in that circumstance whether the opposing party consented to the amendment, or "whether the opposing party had a fair opportunity to defend and whether he could have presented additional evidence had he known sooner the substance of the amendment."  Here, defendants did not consent to the addition of a new theory either expressly or by their conduct.  Further, the amendment would have required reopening discovery and postponing trial.  Finally, the court found that plaintiff could have brought the new theory of liability much sooner than during or on the eve of the trial.  In consideration of all of those factors, the Court of Appeals found that the District Court's denial of plaintiff's attempt to amend the complaint, changing the theory of the case, was a justified exercise of the trial court's power to maintain control over its docket, and was not an abuse of discretion.

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