LEVET, District Judge.
This is an action in admiralty allegedly based upon the Death on the High Seas Act, Title 46 U.S.C.A. § 761 et seq.
The motion seeks an order dismissing the 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th alleged causes of action set forth in the libel for failure to state claims upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Rule 27 of the Rules of Practice in Admiralty and Maritime Cases, 28 U.S.C.A.
The libel alleges that on or about June 1, 1958, the pilot, Daniel H. Middlleton, and passengers Edward Cheramie, Jr., Benjamin H. Raynor, Owen J. Sandoz, Floyd J. DeRoche and Robert E. White were fatally injured as a result of the crash of a helicopter, manufactured by the respondent United Aircraft Corporation (hereinafter designated as "United"), but then owned by Humble Oil & Refining Company and operated by Rotor Aids, Inc., the employer of the pilot, in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico approximately 25 miles southwest of Grand Isle, Louisiana, and more than a marine league from the shores of the State of Louisiana.
The respondent contends that the aforesaid causes of action, based upon breach of implied warranty, must be dismissed for lack of privity between the decedents and the said respondent United.
Title 46 U.S.C.A. § 761 is as follows:
It is fair to conclude that the breach of an implied warranty is included in the term "wrongful act, neglect or default." McLaughlin v. Blidberg Rothchild Company, D.C.S.D.N.Y., 1958, 167 F.Supp. 714. "To say that one who breaches a duty is without fault is a logical as well as a legal incongruity." Skovgaard v. The M/V Tungus, 3 Cir., 1957, 252 F.2d 14, 17, affirmed, 1959, 358 U.S. 588, 79 S.Ct. 503, 3 L.Ed. 2d 524.
The cause of action complained of appears to be a maritime tort. See Dunn v. Wheeler Shipbuilding Corporation, D.C.E.D.N.Y., 1949, 86 F.Supp. 659; Prosser on Torts, 2d Ed. p. 508; Comment by Starke, J., in Parish v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 13 Misc.2d 33, 42, 177 N.Y.S.2d 7 (1958).
"Admiralty tort jurisdiction has never depended upon the nature of the tort or how it came about, but upon the locality where it occurred." Wilson v. Transocean Airlines, D.C.N.D.Calif., S.D., 1954, 121 F.Supp. 85, 92. See 1 Benedict, Admiralty, § 127 (6th Ed., 1940) and cases cited therein.
"In applying the `locality' test for admiralty jurisdiction, the tort is deemed to occur, not where the wrongful act or omission has its inception, but where the impact of the act or omission produces such injury as to give rise to a cause of action. In so far as appears from the complaint in this action, the wrongful act charged to defendant produced no actionable injury until the aircraft plunged into the sea." Wilson v. Transocean Airlines, supra, at p. 92. See also Noel v. Airponents, Inc., D.C.N.J., 1958, 169 F.Supp. 348, 350.
Consequently, it appears from the libel that the tort occurred beyond a marine league from the shore of Louisiana.
The development of the law with respect to the liability of a manufacturer to a remote vendee or ultimate consumer of the manufactured product is outlined in the 1959 Cumulative Supplement to Vol. 46, American Jurisprudence (Annotations to Section 812, page 937, at pages 55-58). As there stated, the so-called general rule of non-liability stems from an English case which did not involve an action against a manufacturer, but against a contractor.
Subsequently, "exceptions" developed to the "general rule" since it was apparent that in some instances a manufacturer should be held liable on grounds of policy to a remote vendee injured by the manufactured product.
In general, the exceptions stem from the celebrated case of Thomas v. Winchester, 6 N.Y. 396, 397 (1852)
Under the modern doctrine there is little doubt but that a person who has had no direct contractual relations with a manufacturer may recover from such manufacturer for damages to property caused by the negligence of the manufacturer in the same manner that such a remote vendee or other third person can recover for personal injuries. Annot., 164 A.L.R. 569, 593.
"An `imminently dangerous' article is one which, although safe to be used for the purpose intended if properly constructed, by reason of its defective construction injury may reasonably be apprehended to any one properly using the article for the purpose for which it was intended. * * * Articles which, if defective, may become imminently dangerous to life and limb include automobiles and foodstuffs. * * *" 46 Am. Jur. 940, 941.
Obviously, the helicopter involved in the instant action is such a dangerous article. The language of Judge Cardozo in MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co., 217 N.Y. 382, 111 N.E. 1050, L.R.A.1916F, 696 (1916), used with reference to the automobile there, is applicable to the helicopter here. "If the nature of a thing is such that it is reasonably certain to place life and limb in peril when negligently made, it is then a thing of danger. Its nature gives warning of the consequences to be expected. * * * There must also be knowledge that in the usual course of events the danger will be shared by others than the buyer." (p. 389, 111 N.E. p. 1053, L.R.A.1916F, 696)
A restatement of those basic principles is embodied in Section 395 of the Restatement of the Law of Torts and a libel alleging a maritime tort in phrases adapted from the complaint in MacPherson has been upheld. Dunn v. Wheeler Shipbuilding Corp., D.C.E.D.N.Y., 1949, 86 F.Supp. 659, 660 (a trawler). See Sieracki v. Seas Shipping Co., 3 Cir., 1945, 149 F.2d 98, affirmed, 328 U.S. 85, 66 S.Ct. 872, 90 L.Ed. 1099 (steamship).
With liability of the manufacturer to one not in privity with him on a negligence
As stated by Dean Prosser:
Prosser further stated:
The doctrine of liability of the manufacturer to remote users without the so-called "privity of contract" has been sustained in respect to other items than food. There is no reason why recovery should be allowed in food and related cases and denied in others so far as the privity requirement is concerned. Spence v. Three Rivers Builders & Masonry Supply, Inc., 1958, 353 Mich. 120, 90 N.W.2d 873, 878; Harper & James, Law of Torts, Vol. 2, p. 1573; Hinton v. Republic Aviation Corporation, D.C.S.D. N.Y., 1959, 180 F.Supp. 31.
There is, in my opinion, no reason why the rule in the federal courts with respect to privity should be based upon an ancient error. As stated by Starke, J., in his review of New York cases in Parish v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., supra:
Admiralty courts have not been reluctant to consider manufacturers liable to remote parties. Dunn v. Wheeler Shipbuilding Corp., D.C.E.D.N.Y., 1949, 86 F.Supp. 659; Sieracki v. Seas Shipping
In view of the modern trend, as previously discussed, an action based on the breach of an implied warranty should not be dismissed because of the lack of privity between the plaintiff and the defendant. See Siegel v. Braniff Air-Corporation, 1960, D.C.S.D.N.Y., 204 F.Supp. 861 (law of Texas); Conlon v. Republic Aviation Corporation, D.C.S.D. N.Y., 204 F.Supp. 865 (law of Michigan).
It must be noted that the question here involved is not the nature of liability; that is the province of the trial court. The sole question is whether the libellants are precluded from attempting to assert a claim against the manufacturer because of the absence of a direct contractual relationship with such a respondent. As heretofore indicated, the gravamen of the claim asserted by the libellants and attacked by the respondent is basically tort — the violation of a duty to persons such as the libellants. This motion tests solely the right of the libellants to invoke such a claim.
Obviously, the trial court has the duty of determining the questions of proximate cause, the nature of the liability, the relationship of manufacturer and operator, the effect of maintenance and any other relevant factual issues.
It may be argued that the determination that privity is not required is a drastic innovation. The progressive decline of the older rule, based as it was on an infirm and fallacious foundation, is clearly evident. The fact that a manufacturer of an aircraft located in Connecticut may become involved in a disaster happening in the Gulf of Mexico may have unfortunate aspects, but that is not determinative of the question at issue. This happens in respect to other obligations. The fact that modern life and developments, such as transportation, have taken on complex relationships is no anomaly. Complex relationships result in complex responsibilities. If life is complex, so are the laws of human relationships, which are the results thereof.
The arguments against the requisite of privity may be summarized as follows:
1. The decisional approach which requires privity in breach of implied warranty actions is based upon fallacious reasoning.
2. While some courts have followed the earlier cases requiring privity, the fallacy of this approach has become apparent in many jurisdictions and the privity doctrine has been discarded in cases involving food.
3. The requirement of privity in negligence causes of action has been discarded, particularly in cases where the product involved is "a thing of danger".
4. The same considerations which have prompted the demise of the privity requisite in negligence actions and in implied warranty actions involving food are present in this breach of warranty action involving an aircraft. The nature of this product is one which may well place life and limb in danger if that product is defective.
5. There has been no logical or realistic reason advanced why privity should be retained in a breach of implied warranty case. The trend is toward the abrogation of this anachronism.
Accordingly, the respondent's motion is denied.