LARSEN v. GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION No. 4-66 Civ. 38.
274 F.Supp. 461 (1967)
Erling David LARSEN, Plaintiff, v. GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, a Delaware corporation, Defendant.
United States District Court D. Minnesota, Fourth Division.
March 14, 1967.
Norman W. Larsen, of King, MacGregor & Lommen, Minneapolis, Minn., for plaintiff.
Franklin D. Gray, of Cant, Haverstock, Beardsley, Gray & Plant, Minneapolis, Minn., for defendant.
NORDBYE, District Judge.
This proceeding comes before the court on a motion by the defendant, General Motors Corporation (hereinafter referred to as "GM") for summary judgment. On February 18, 1964, the plaintiff was involved in a head-on collision with another automobile while operating a 1963 Corvair automobile owned by his passenger, one Jean Ann Reader, and manufactured by the defendant. In his
Under Rule 56, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A., summary judgment will be granted
Since there is no dispute between the parties at least in so far as the crucial facts are concerned, the only question before this Court is what was the legal duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff. The latter contends that the defendant was obligated to design the 1963 Corvair automobile so that it would protect the plaintiff and others from the forces generated by a head-on collision. The defendant takes the position that its duty was limited to designing and constructing an automobile which had no hidden or latent defects and which was fit for the ordinary purposes for which the automobile was made. Unless the defendant's duty is as broad as the plaintiff contends, the defendant is entitled to summary judgment regardless of whether the theory of liability is based on negligence or warranty. This is so because if there was no legal duty to produce a vehicle which would protect the occupants from injury in a head-on collision, no factual dispute could arise as to whether or not the duty was breached. Further, there can be no question as to whether the defendant did or did not warn the plaintiff of the dangers involved in a head-on collision if in fact there was no duty on the part of the former to do so. The only express warranty upon which plaintiff relies is the usual and customary new-vehicle warranty for the replacement and repair of defective parts issued by the manufacturer, a copy of which is attached to defendant's answer herein. This express warranty in no way avails plaintiff in this proceeding.
The recent case of Evans v. General Motors Corp., 359 F.2d 822 (7 Cir. 1966), is very closely related to the instant case. There, the personal representative of the decedent's estate brought an action to recover damages on the grounds that the death of the decedent was caused by the negligent design of the automobile manufactured by the defendant. Specifically, the decedent was killed in a broadside collision while operating a Chevrolet station wagon. The basis of the plaintiff's complaint was that the vehicle was designed with an "X" frame instead of a perimeter frame with the placement of the front seat at the intersection of the X. The plaintiff alleged that by failing to provide siderails, as other manufacturers did, the defendant created an unreasonable risk of harm to the occupants of the automobile in the event of an impact against the side of the vehicle. The district court dismissed the complaint and the Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed reasoning that the only crucial issue raised by the complaint was the nature of the duty owed by an automobile manufacturer to users of its products. In this regard, the court concluded:
The court also pointed out:
This last statement of the court seems to repudiate the contention made by the plaintiff in that case that the defendant had a duty to protect occupants of its automobiles from injury or death in broadside collisions since such an accident was foreseeable. The court indicated that the defendant was correct in conceding that its only duty was
Finally, the court indicated that even though other manufacturers equipped their vehicles with perimeter frames, this would not make the defendant any more culpable. The court said:
It appears to this court that no material or significant difference exists between the frame of an automobile and the steering shaft and wheel at least with respect to the manufacturer's duty toward occupants of such vehicles is concerned. In Evans, the plaintiff proceeded on the theory of negligent design and breach of warranty but recovery was denied. It would seem from that case alone that recovery should be denied here also.
In Schemel v. General Motors Corp., EV 66-C-58 (S.D.Indiana 1966), the plaintiff sought to recover for personal injuries suffered when the vehicle in which he was riding was struck from the rear by a Chevrolet automobile traveling at about 115 miles per hour. The defendant automobile manufacturer is alleged to have been negligent in designing and manufacturing an automobile capable of being operated at such a speed, in failing to install a governor making such a speed impossible, and in designing and making a vehicle which was more dangerous than necessary. The court dismissed the plaintiff's action with prejudice, pointing out:
The Schemel case also brought out another consideration in this area when it said:
In the recent decision of Charles H. Shumard, Administrator of the Estate of Donald W. Shumard, Deceased v. General Motors Corp., U.S.Dist.Ct., 270 F.Supp. 311, Southern Dist. of Ohio, E. Div., filed February 28, 1967, the complaint stated that plaintiff's decedent was killed while in a 1962 Corvair automobile when it was in a collision with another automobile and that the Corvair car upon collision burst into flames and killed plaintiff's decedent. Plaintiff on the theory of improper design of the Corvair claimed liability on the part of the manufacturer. The court cited the Evans case, supra, and Kahn v. Chrysler Corp., 221 F.Supp. 677 (S.D.Tex.1963). From the latter case, the following was quoted as to who should determine the question of duty. The court stated (p. 679):
In commenting upon the Evans and Kahn cases, the court stated in the Shumard case (p. 314 of 270 F.Supp., D.C. opinion):
All of these factors when considered together lead to but one conclusion: The defendant GM's duty toward the public is to design an automobile which is reasonably safe when driven and which contains no latent or hidden defects which could cause an accident and subsequent injury to either the driver or passengers of the vehicle. No contention is made here by the plaintiff that any design defect caused the accident which allegedly resulted in the plaintiff's injuries. In view of this fact and because this Court believes that any standards in this area must be left to the Legislature, this court has no alternative but to find that the defendant was not negligent in its design and construction of the 1963 Corvair automobile in that it was under no duty to make a vehicle which would protect the plaintiff from injury in the event of a head-on collision.
Similarly, this court is of the opinion that the defendant was not under any duty to warn the plaintiff as to the alleged "latent defects" and "unsafe condition" of the vehicle in question, if in fact there were any, since the law only requires a warning when the defects would render the product unsafe for its intended use. See Evans v. General Motors Corp., supra. The plaintiff admits that the steering column on the 1963 Corvair was not defective and that it operated properly to control the vehicle. The intended use of an automobile does not include its participation in head-on collisions and, therefore, there was no duty on the part of the defendant to warn
Realistically, no passenger automobile insures absolute safety to the driver or the passengers therein on a head-on collision with another automobile. For instance, some cars are equipped only with collapsible roll-away fabric tops, and in the event of an accident which causes the car to roll over, there would be relatively no protection for the driver or the passengers therein. However, other automobiles equipped with metal tops may roll over in an accident and the occupants therein are often relatively free from serious injury. It is well known that some cars have front bumpers, for instance, that are so constructed that they may lighten materially the impact of a head-on collision, but that fact, without legislation, should not require every car manufacturer to duplicate this particular safety measure. Some small foreign-type cars present greater road hazards to the drivers and passengers than the larger American-built cars. These, and many more examples which could be cited, tend to illustrate that the promulgation of safety measures which car manufacturers should adopt in their construction of automobiles in anticipation of road accidents are not for the courts to determine. In light of these considerations, this court concludes that defendant's motion for summary judgment as to Count I should be granted.
Count II of the plaintiff's complaint likewise fails to raise any issue of material fact since the defendant was never under any legal duty to make the implied warranties upon which the plaintiff now seeks to recover. To reiterate, the defendant only was required to design and in turn warrant that its automobiles were free from hidden or latent defects and would operate properly when being driven. Needless to say, if the defendant had no duty to provide a vehicle which would protect the driver or his passengers from injuries in the event of a head-on collision, then this court cannot and will not imply that the defendant had made such a warranty. Where, as in this case, the plaintiff makes no contention that the vehicle manufactured by the defendant was not fit for its intended purpose, which was transportation, then there can be no breach of any implied warranty of merchantability or fitness. Count II of the plaintiff's complaint also must be dismissed.
The court has given due consideration to the cases cited by counsel for the plaintiff. For the most part, they pertain to negligence of the manufacturer in failing to exercise reasonable care in the production of an automobile for the uses for which it was reasonably intended. The case of Mickle v. Blackmon Cherokee Construction Company and Ford Motor Company, Cir.Ct. 6th Judicial Cir., York County, South Carolina, decided March 4, 1965, where a verdict was rendered against the Ford Motor Company by reason of its unsafe design of a gear shift lever causing injury to a passenger in a two-car collision is of no persuasive weight here in that no judgment has been entered as yet on the jury's verdict. Moreover, the Evans and Shumard cases present the more convincing applicable law under the circumstances herein.
In view of the foregoing, it follows that defendant is entitled to a summary judgment in its favor and the complaint herein must be dismissed. It is so ordered. An exception is allowed.
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