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

Case sent back to district court

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

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.

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.

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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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He spent also five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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