This is a suit against the manufacturer of an automobile which crashed against a concrete abutment as a result of which collision the plaintiff, a passenger, was injured. It was alleged in the complaint that the accident was caused by a defect in the automobile, for which the defendant manufacturer was responsible. The plaintiff appeals from a judgment entered on a verdict of the jury in favor of the defendant.
Error is assigned to the giving of a number of instructions. The first instructions complained of imposed upon the plaintiff the burden of proving negligence on the part of the defendant. The plaintiff's position is that it was only necessary for her to establish that the automobile, as manufactured by the defendant, was dangerously defective, and that the accident in which she was injured was attributable to the defect in the automobile.
The plaintiff's expert witness testified that a defectively installed "A-frame" pivot bolt had come loose, allowing the "A-frame" to drop and thereby render it impossible for the driver to control the direction in which the automobile was moving. She offered no evidence of any negligent act on the part of the defendant, unless it can be said that the fact of the defect raised an inference of negligence.
The defendant, on the other hand, offered testimony that it exercised care in the manufacture of its automobiles and that the bolt would have come loose much sooner than it did if it had been improperly installed at the factory.
The trial court gave the following instruction requested by the plaintiff:
This instruction, standing alone, makes the manufacturer strictly liable for harm caused by manufacturing defects in the product. However, the trial court also gave the following instructions to which error is assigned:
It is the contention of the plaintiff that she did not try her case upon the theory of negligence, that she did not offer evidence of negligence, and that the trial court improperly placed upon her the burden of proving what negligence of the defendant, if any, caused the defect in the installation of the pivot bolt. It is her theory that her right to recover was established if she showed that there was a defect and that it caused the accident in which she was injured.
This court has held that when the manufacturer of food products places upon the market products which are contaminated or impure, it is liable to any person who is injured thereby. The theory of liability has been that there is a warranty implied in law (and not dependent on the warranty provisions of the Uniform Sales Act, RCW 63.04.160
A similar liability has been imposed by this court on manufacturers of other products which have caused injuries. In Esborg v. Bailey Drug Co., 61 Wn.2d 347, 378 P.2d 298 (1963), we held that the manufacturer of a hair coloring product impliedly warranted that his product was
In Brewer v. Oriard Powder Co., 66 Wn.2d 187, 401 P.2d 844 (1965), we held that a manufacturer of dynamite impliedly warranted to the employee of a purchaser that the product was fit for use for its intended purpose. In Brown v. General Motors Corp., 67 Wn.2d 278, 407 P.2d 461 (1965), we held that, where the plaintiff's evidence tended to show that the wheels of an automobile manufactured by the defendant became locked due to defective manufacture, or a foreign object in the power vacuum unit, it was proper to submit the issues to the jury on the theory of implied warranty.
In Baxter v. Ford Motor Co., 168 Wn. 456, 462, 12 P.2d 409, 88 A.L.R. 521 (1932), we permitted recovery against a manufacturer who had made express representations about the non-shatterable glass in its windshield in its advertising matter, although there was no privity between the manufacturer and the consumer. This court said:
Since these cases were decided on a theory of warranty, in none of them was the plaintiff required to prove negligence on the part of the defendant. It is true that this common law implied warranty is grounded in tort, rather than contract, and that the element of foreseeability is often discussed in the cases; but it was not suggested in any of them that the burden is on the plaintiff in such a case to prove that the manufacturer did something which a reasonably prudent manufacturer would not have done, or that it failed to do something which a reasonably prudent manufacturer would have done.
On the contrary, in Pulley v. Pacific Coca-Cola Bottling Co., supra, we held that the trial court properly excluded evidence offered by the defendant to show that it exercised great care in its bottling process, saying that its care or lack of care was not at issue. And in Brown v. General Motors Corp., supra, we observed that the theory of implied warranty carries with it an "omen of liability without fault."
Concurrently with these decisions, this court has recognized the applicability of negligence principles in other cases. Bock v. Truck & Tractor, Inc., 18 Wn.2d 458, 139 P.2d 706 (1943) (negligent overhauling by second-hand dealer); Sutton v. Diimmel, 55 Wn.2d 592, 349 P.2d 226 (1960) (defective brake fluid hose); Reusch v. Ford Motor Co., 196 Wn. 213, 82 P.2d 556 (1938) (alleged defect in construction of auto truck, judgment for defendant affirmed on ground of insufficient evidence of causation).
We have said that recovery may be had on either theory. Brown v. General Motors Corp., supra; Nelson v. West Coast Dairy Co., supra. We have also implied, for example, in Wise v. Hayes, 58 Wn.2d 106, 361 P.2d 171 (1961), and in Dipangrazio v. Salamonsen, 64 Wn.2d 720, 725, 393 P.2d 936 (1964), that the two are indistinguishable. In the latter case, the plaintiff, a 10-year-old boy, was injured when he crashed through a glass door which had been manufactured by one of the defendants. Insofar as the opinion reveals,
That case was tried upon a theory of negligence, as well as breach of warranty and it was not urged before this court that negligence instructions were improper. It was upon the basis of this case that the instructions given by the trial court in the case now before us were framed. It was the theory of the plaintiff, however, that our cases decided upon a theory of warranty actually support the proposition that the manufacturer is liable for harm caused by defects in his product, whether or not he has been negligent. The plaintiff did not choose to couch her theory in the language of warranty, but rather maintained that the law has now advanced to the point where the "warranty implied in law" may be recognized as a fiction and discarded. The liability imposed under this theory, she maintains, is a strict liability and does not depend on the fault of the manufacturer, nor does it have the attributes of a warranty. Her theory finds much support among the legal writers as well as some criticism. The arguments pro and con are cited in two articles by Dean William L. Prosser, The Assault Upon the Citadel (Strict Liability to the Consumer), 69 Yale L.J.
In the second of these articles, Dean Prosser lists Washington among the 18 states whose courts have imposed strict liability without negligence and without privity, as to manufacturers of all types of products. The cases cited to support this conclusion are Brewer v. Oriard Powder Co., supra; Dipangrazio v. Salamonsen, supra; and Wise v. Hayes, supra. In the Brewer case it was admitted that there was no evidence of any specific act of negligence, and the case clearly stands for the proposition that recovery may be had on a theory of breach of implied warranty without proof of negligence. In the other two cases negligence is discussed as a basis of recovery, but there is nothing in either opinion to indicate that there was any evidence of a specific act of negligence other than the inferences that can be drawn from the fact of a defective product. The same is true of other cases we have cited which have been decided upon a theory of implied warranty.
The comment referred to by Dean Prosser is as follows:
Comment a of that section reads, in part:
As the comment states, the rule is not exclusive and does not preclude the plaintiff from suing on a negligence theory if he chooses.
Section 402A, insofar as it pertains to manufacturers (and we are concerned in this case with a manufacturer only), is in accord with the import of our cases which have been
Inasmuch as the plaintiff in this case did not choose to try her case on the theory that the defendant was negligent in manufacturing the automobile and instead chose to rest her case on a theory of strict liability, which is supported by our decisions (although admittedly not expressed as such therein), the trial court erred in giving instructions which tended to create, in the minds of the jury, the impression that it was necessary that the plaintiff prove such negligence. On a new trial, however, an instruction stating the rule according to Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A (1965) should be given, rather than instruction No. 6, which does not make it clear that the manufacturer is liable only for defects which create an unreasonable risk of harm.
The defendant was entitled to an instruction on negligence as it pertained to the actions of the driver of the automobile, whose negligence the defendant claimed was the sole proximate cause of the accident; but on a new trial the court should advise the jury that the law expressed in
In regard to instruction No. 8, the plaintiff also complains that it amounted to a comment on the evidence. In it, the trial court told the jury that, in determining whether a failure to exercise reasonable care on the part of the defendant was a proximate cause of the accident, it could take into consideration the age of the car and the number of miles traveled. The plaintiff's expert witness testified that those factors would not be of much significance in determining whether the accident was caused by such a defect. The defendant's experts testified that they would indeed be significant. Since there was a conflict in the evidence, it cannot be said as a matter of law that the mileage and years of usage are factors affecting the likelihood there was a defect.
The defendant argues that the jury was adequately instructed on proximate cause. Our examination of the instructions, however, does not disclose any instructions or combination of instructions which would make it clear to the jury that it should hold the defendant liable if it found that a manufacturing defect was a cause of the accident, even though it might also find that negligence of the driver in operating the vehicle after the A-frame dropped was a contributing factor. See Caylor v. B.C. Motor Transp., Ltd., 191 Wn. 365, 71 P.2d 162 (1937). Upon a new trial, assuming that the evidence is substantially the same as that presented in the first trial, an instruction embodying the theory of concurring fault should be given.
The judgment is reversed and a new trial is ordered.
HUNTER, C.J., FINLEY, WEAVER, HAMILTON, and HALE, JJ., concur.
I concur in the remanding of this case for a new trial, but do not go as far as the majority seemingly does in the application and construction of the strict liability doctrine enunciated in Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A (1965).
Comment g to Restatement of Torts, supra, states at 351:
This comment makes it clear that the plaintiff has the burden of proving (1) that there was a defect, (2) which existed at the time the product left the hands of the manufacturer, (3) which was not contemplated by the user, (4) which renders the product unreasonably dangerous, and (5) that such defect was the proximate cause of plaintiff's injury. This same concept is succinctly stated by the Illinois court when it adopted this rule of strict liability. In Suvada v. White Motor Co., 32 Ill.2d 612, 623, 210 N.E.2d 182 (1965), that court said:
Further, there is no automatic causation which traces from the manufacturer to user — again, this is a matter of proof by the plaintiff. In Shoshone Coca-Cola Bottling Co. v. Dolinski, 82 Nev. 439, 443, 420 P.2d 855 (1966), wherein that court adopted this rule of strict liability, it is pointed out that
Therefore, instructions to be given on a retrial should clearly state these elements which plaintiff must prove.
Defendant has made a cogent argument on the relevance of the age and mileage of the automobile, a point covered by instruction No. 8. It should be understood that the omission of instruction No. 8 on a retrial does not, in any way, limit the right of the defendant to argue the age and mileage matter to the jury. Such argument is entirely proper under instructions as to plaintiff's burden to prove that a defect in the automobile existed at the time it left the hands of defendant manufacturer.
We should be cautious in adopting a rule of strict liability against a manufacturer who has, presumably, exercised all due and reasonable care to make an acceptable and reasonably safe product. Although I recognize this current development in American tort law, it should be made crystal clear that the adoption of this doctrine by us does not create a rule of absolute liability. The mere fact of a malfunction of a product is not sufficient to raise an inference that the necessary elements for strict liability are present.
HILL and McGOVERN, JJ., concur with NEILL, J.