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Barker v. Lull Engineering Co.

Supreme Court of California

January 16, 1978

S.F. No. 23519


 [*416]  [**445]  [***227]    In August 1970, plaintiff Ray Barker was injured at a construction site at the University of California at Santa  [*417]  Cruz while [****2]  operating a high-lift loader manufactured by defendant Lull Engineering Co. and leased to plaintiff's employer by defendant George M. Philpott Co., Inc. Claiming that his injuries were proximately caused, inter alia, by the alleged defective design of the loader,  [**446]   [***228]  Barker instituted the present tort action seeking to recover damages for his injuries. The jury returned a verdict in favor of defendants, and plaintiff appeals from the judgment entered upon that verdict, contending primarily that in view of this court's decision in Cronin v. J. B. E. Olson Corp. (1972) 8 Cal.3d 121 [104 Cal.Rptr. 433, 501 P.2d 1153], the trial court erred in instructing the jury "that strict liability for a defect in design of a product is based on a finding that the product was unreasonably dangerous for its intended use . . . ."

As we explain, we agree with plaintiff's objection to the challenged instruction and conclude that the judgment must be reversed. In Cronin, we reviewed the development of the strict product liability doctrine in California at some length, and concluded that, for a variety of reasons, the "unreasonably dangerous" element which section [****3]  402A of the Restatement Second of Torts had introduced into the definition of a defective product should not be incorporated into a plaintiff's burden of proof in a product liability action in this state. Although defendants maintain that our Cronin decision should properly be interpreted as applying only to "manufacturing defects" and not to the alleged "design defects" at issue here, we shall point out that the Cronin decision itself refutes any such distinction. Consequently, we conclude that the instruction was erroneous and that the judgment in favor of defendants must be reversed.

In addition, we take this opportunity to attempt to alleviate some confusion that our Cronin decision has apparently engendered in the lower courts. Although in Cronin we rejected the Restatement's "unreasonably dangerous" gloss on the defectiveness concept as potentially confusing and unduly restrictive, we shall explain that our Cronin decision did not dictate that the term "defect" be left undefined in jury instructions given in all product liability cases.

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20 Cal. 3d 413 *; 573 P.2d 443 **; 143 Cal. Rptr. 225 ***; 1978 Cal. LEXIS 176 ****; 96 A.L.R.3d 1

RAY P. BARKER, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. LULL ENGINEERING COMPANY, INC., et al., Defendants and Respondents; EMPLOYERS INSURANCE OF WAUSAU, Intervener and Respondent

Prior History:  [****1]  Superior Court of the City and County of San Francisco, No. 627755, Leland J. Lazarus, Judge.

Disposition: The judgment in favor of defendants is reversed.


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Torts, Products Liability, Theories of Liability, Strict Liability, Negligence, Civil Procedure, Jury Trials, Jury Instructions, General Overview, Types of Defects, Design Defects, Manufacturing Defects, Elements, Causation, Contracts Law, Sales of Goods, Warranties, Types of Premises, Recreational Facilities, Evidence, Testimony, Competency, Judges, Proximate Cause, Burdens of Proof