$50 million verdict against Briggs & Stratton wiped out by appeals court

Case sent back to district court

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A $50 million judgment against Wauwatosa-based Briggs & Stratton Corp. was overturned by a federal appeals court earlier this month after a three-judge panel determined the district court made several errors in the case.

Briggs & Stratton headquarters
The Briggs & Stratton headquarters in Wauwatosa.

The lawsuit was filed by Nebraska-based Exmark Manufacturing Co. Inc. in 2010. It accused Briggs & Stratton Power Products Group LLC of infringing on Exmark patents in the design of two different mower decks. The claim centered on the use of a baffle to direct the flow of air and grass clippings during operation.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for Nebraska and a judge there granted Exmark’s request for summary judgment regarding Briggs’ original mower design but left it to a jury to determine if redesigned mowers also infringed on Exmark’s patents.

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The jury found the redesigned mower did not infringe but determined the original infringement was willful and awarded Exmark almost $24.3 million. The judge then doubled the award as enhanced damages because the infringement had been willful. Another $1.5 million in pre-judgment interest was also added with post-judgment interest to be determined.

Briggs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, taking issue with the district court granting summary judgment, denying a new trial on damages and other evidentiary rulings.

The appeals court sided with Briggs on most of the elements of its appeal and vacated the summary judgment and jury award.

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The case was sent back to the district court with instructions to reconsider the summary judgment and hold a new trial on damages, if necessary.

In a securities filing this week, Briggs noted it determined in October of last year that “a loss from this case was not probable” and did not record a liability in its financial reports. The filing noted the appeals court ruling did not change that view.

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