CRONIN v. J.B.E. OLSON CORP. Docket No. Sac. 7913.
8 Cal.3d 121 (1972)
501 P.2d 1153
104 Cal. Rptr. 433
WILLIAM CRONIN, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. J.B.E. OLSON CORPORATION, Defendant and Appellant; STATE COMPENSATION INSURANCE FUND, Intervener and Respondent.
Supreme Court of California. In Bank.
October 17, 1972.
Mayall, Hurley, Knutsen, Smith & Green and C.D. Knutsen for Defendant and Appellant.
Hulsey, Beus & Wilson and Roger D. Hulsey for Plaintiff and Respondent.
Robert E. Cartwright, Edward I. Pollock, Theodore A. Horn, Marvin E. Lewis, William H. Lally, Thomas T. Anderson, Joseph W. Cotchett and Leonard Sacks as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Respondent.
T. Groezinger, Loton Wells and Herbert Lasky for Intervener and Respondent.
In this products liability case, the principal question which we face is whether the injured plaintiff seeking recovery upon the theory of strict liability in tort must establish, among other facts, not only that the product contained a defect which proximately caused his injuries but also that such defective condition made the product unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer. We have concluded that he need not do so. Accordingly, we find no error in the trial court's refusal to so instruct the jury. Rejecting as without merit various challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence, we affirm the judgment.
The truck, a one-ton Chevrolet stepvan with built-in bread racks, was one of several trucks sold to Gravem in 1957 by defendant Chase Chevrolet Company (Chase), not a party to this appeal. Upon receipt of Gravem's order, Chase purchased the trucks from defendant J.B.E. Olson Corporation (Olson), which acted as sales agent for the assembled vehicle, the chassis, body, and racks of which were manufactured by three subcontractors. The body of the van contained three aisles along which there were welded runners extending from the front to the rear of the truck. Each rack held ten bread trays from top to bottom and five trays deep; the trays slid forward into the cab or back through the rear door to facilitate deliveries.
Plaintiff brought the present action against Chase, Olson and General Motors Corporation
At the trial, plaintiff's expert testified, in substance, that the metal hasp broke, releasing the bread trays, because it was extremely porous and had a significantly lower tolerance to force than a non-flawed aluminum hasp would have had. The jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff and against Olson in the sum of $45,000 but in favor of defendant Chase and against
1. Sufficiency of the Evidence
Defendant first contends that plaintiff failed to show the defective hasp to be the same one originally supplied by the manufacturer. The record contains no evidence as to the use or maintenance of the van from the time it was purchased by Gravem in 1957 until plaintiff began to drive it five years later. Plaintiff admitted that the racks had been modified by the addition of reinforcement bars welded onto a hinge mechanism which the hasp fastened in a closed position to hold the trays in place. But that admission does not derogate from the implied finding that the hasp itself was the original one supplied by the manufacturer. Contrary to defendant's claim that no evidence was introduced on this point, plaintiff's expert witness testified that he saw no indication of any repair of the hasp itself. When there is sufficient evidence to support a factual finding, it is not within the province of an appellate court to reexamine or reweigh it. (Crawford v. Southern Pacific Co. (1953) 3 Cal.2d 427, 429 [45 P.2d 183].)
It is next urged that plaintiff's evidence failed to show any condition of the hasp which could be considered defective. The gist of the argument on this point appears to be that "defectiveness" cannot be properly determined without proof of some standard set by knowledgeable individuals for the manufacture and use of the particular part under scrutiny and that plaintiff's expert applied "his own unilateral standard" in giving his opinion that the hasp was defective. In the absence of an appropriate standard, so it is argued, all proof must fail.
The record shows that the hasp, because it was defective, did not fulfill this purpose. Plaintiff's expert testified that the broken hasp was "extremely porous and extremely defective" as it was full of holes, voids and cracks. These flaws were in the metal itself and resulted in the hasp's lowered tolerance to force. He further stated that this condition could not be attributed to prolonged use. This conclusion was buttressed by the expert's testimony that the break in the hasp was a tensile fracture caused by sudden force rather than a fatigue fracture, which is by nature progressive. The hasp failed because "[i]t was just a very, very bad piece of metal. Simply would not stand any force — reasonable forces at all."
Olson's argument that the van was built only for "normal" driving is unavailing.
Despite its claim that Gravem used the van beyond its life span, Olson did not show that the van was delivered with any warning that it would not remain safe after seven or eight years. Nor did it show that by reason of age the van was obviously dangerous.
2. The Instruction on Strict Liability
Defendant's remaining contention requires us to probe the essential elements of products liability. It is claimed that in instructing the jury as to the issues upon which plaintiff had the burden of proof
The encapsulation in appropriate jury instructions of the doctrine of strict liability in tort as announced in the decision of this court in Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc. (1963) 59 Cal.2d 57 [27 Cal.Rptr. 697, 377 P.2d 897, 13 A.L.R.3d 1049] has apparently given rise to some confusion. The instruction given in the case at bench, although drafted by the trial judge, was apparently based upon BAJI No. 218-A,
The history of strict liability in California indicates that the requirement that the defect made the product "unreasonably dangerous" crept into our jurisprudence without fanfare after its inclusion in section 402A of the Restatement Second of Torts in 1965 (see fns. 12 and 13, infra). The question raised in the instant matter as to whether the requirement is an essential part of the plaintiff's case is one of first impression.
Until our decision in Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc., supra, 59 Cal.2d 57, strict liability for defective products was, in effect, imposed sub silentio by extension of the warranty doctrine.
Greenman had been injured when a piece of wood on which he was working flew out of his Shopsmith, a combination power tool usable as a saw, drill, and wood lathe. "To establish the manufacturer's liability it was sufficient that plaintiff proved that he was injured while using the Shopsmith in a way it was intended to be used as a result of a defect in design and manufacture of which plaintiff was not aware[
During the following decade the Greenman rule has been made applicable to retailers (Vandermark v. Ford Motor Co. (1964) 61 Cal.2d 256, 263 [37 Cal.Rptr. 896, 391 P.2d 168]); bailors and lessors (Price v. Shell Oil Company (1970) 2 Cal.3d 245, 248 [85 Cal.Rptr. 178, 466 P.2d 722]); wholesalers and distributors (Barth v. B.F. Goodrich Tire Co., supra, 265 Cal.App.2d 228, 252-253; Canifax v. Hercules Powder Co. (1965) 237 Cal.App.2d 44, 52 [46 Cal.Rptr. 552]); and sellers of mass-produced homes (Kriegler v. Eichler Homes, Inc. (1969) 269 Cal.App.2d 224, 227 [74 Cal.Rptr. 749]). Its protection has been extended to bystanders (Elmore v. American Motors Corp. (1969) 70 Cal.2d 578, 586 [75 Cal.Rptr. 652, 451 P.2d 84]). Recovery under the rule for solely economic losses has, however, been withheld (Seely v. White Motor Co. (1965) 63 Cal.2d 9, 18-19 [45 Cal.Rptr. 17, 403 P.2d 145]). But throughout the development of the Greenman rule we have said very little to explain what we meant in that case by a "defect" which would give rise to liability if injury were proximately caused thereby.
The addition of section 402A
We have not hesitated to reach conclusions contrary to those set forth in Restatement section 402A (see Price v. Shell Oil Company, supra, 2 Cal.3d 245, 253), but we and the Courts of Appeal have more frequently adopted than challenged its basic outlines. In numerous cases this court and the Courts of Appeal have referred to the Restatement and the Greenman standards in tandem, as if they were for all practical purposes identical.
Indeed, generally speaking the similarities between the Greenman standard and the Restatement formulation are greater than their differences.
The almost inextricable intertwining of the Greenman and Restatement standards in our jurisprudence was inevitable, considering the simplicity of Greenman and the fuller guidance for many situations offered by the Restatement and its commentary. Nevertheless, the issue now raised requires us to examine and resolve an apparent divergence in the two formulations.
We begin with section 402A itself. According to the official comment to the section, a "defective condition" is one "not contemplated by the ultimate consumer, which will be unreasonably dangerous to him." (Rest.2d Torts, § 402A, com. g.) Comment i, defining "unreasonably dangerous," states, "The article sold must be dangerous to an extent beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary consumer who purchases it, with the ordinary knowledge common to the community as to its characteristics." Examples given in comment i make it clear that such innocuous products as sugar and butter, unless contaminated, would not give rise to a strict liability claim merely because the former may be harmful to a diabetic or the latter may aggravate the blood cholesterol level of a person with heart disease. Presumably such dangers are squarely within the contemplation of the ordinary consumer. Prosser, the reporter for the Restatement, suggests that the "unreasonably dangerous" qualification was added to foreclose the possibility that the manufacturer of a product with inherent possibilities for harm (for example, butter, drugs, whiskey and automobiles) would become "automatically responsible for all the harm that such things do in the world." (Prosser, Strict Liability to the Consumer in California (1966) 18 Hastings L.J. 9, 23.)
The result of the limitation, however, has not been merely to prevent the seller from becoming an insurer of his products with respect to all harm generated by their use. Rather, it has burdened the injured plaintiff with proof of an element which rings of negligence. As a result, if, in the
Of particular concern is the susceptibility of Restatement section 402A to a literal reading which would require the finder of fact to conclude that the product is, first, defective and, second, unreasonably dangerous. (Note, supra, 55 Geo.L.J. 286, 296.) A bifurcated standard is of necessity more difficult to prove than a unitary one. But merely proclaiming that the phrase "defective condition unreasonably dangerous" requires only a single finding would not purge that phrase of its negligence complexion. We think that a requirement that a plaintiff also prove that the defect made the product "unreasonably dangerous" places upon him a significantly increased burden and represents a step backward in the area pioneered by this court.
We recognize that the words "unreasonably dangerous" may also serve the beneficial purpose of preventing the seller from being treated as the insurer of its products. However, we think that such protective end is attained by the necessity of proving that there was a defect in the manufacture or design of the product and that such defect was a proximate cause of the injuries. Although the seller should not be responsible for all injuries involving the use of its products, it should be liable for all
We can see no difficulty in applying the Greenman formulation to the full range of products liability situations, including those involving "design defects." A defect may emerge from the mind of the designer as well as from the hand of the workman.
The Greenman case itself indicated that "[t]o establish the manufacturer's liability it was sufficient that plaintiff proved that he was injured while using the Shopsmith in a way it was intended to be used as a result of a defect in design and manufacture ...." (59 Cal.2d at p. 64; italics added), thereby suggesting the difficulty inherent in distinguishing between types of defects. Although it is easier to see the "defect" in a single imperfectly fashioned product than in an entire line badly conceived, a distinction between manufacture and design defects is not tenable. (Pike v. Frank G. Hough Co., supra, 2 Cal.3d 465, 475; Kessler, supra, 76 Yale L.J. 887, 900, fn. 71.)
The most obvious problem we perceive in creating any such distinction is that thereafter it would be advantageous to characterize a defect in one rather than the other category. It is difficult to prove that a product ultimately caused injury because a widget was poorly welded — a defect in manufacture — rather than because it was made of inexpensive metal difficult to weld, chosen by a designer concerned with economy — a defect in design. The proof problem would, of course, be magnified when the article in question was either old or unique, with no easily available basis for comparison. We wish to avoid providing such a battleground for clever counsel. Furthermore, we find no reason why a different standard, and one harder to meet, should apply to defects which plague entire product lines. We recognize that it is more damaging to a manufacturer to have an entire line condemned, so to speak, for a defect in design, than a single product for a defect in manufacture. But the potential economic loss to a manufacturer should not be reflected in a different standard of proof for an injured consumer.
The judgment is affirmed.
Wright, C.J., McComb, J., Peters, J., Tobriner, J., Mosk, J., and Burke, J., concurred.
- No Cases Found