Law School Case Brief
Denny v. Ford Motor Co. - 87 N.Y.2d 248, 639 N.Y.S.2d 250, 662 N.E.2d 730 (1995)
It is the negligence-like risk/benefit component of the defect element that differentiates strict products liability claims from Uniform Commercial Code (UCC)-based breach of implied warranty claims in cases involving design defects. While the strict products concept of a product that is not reasonably safe" requires a weighing of the product's dangers against its over-all advantages, the UCC's concept of a "defective" product requires an inquiry only into whether the product in question was fit for the ordinary purposes for which such goods are used. The latter inquiry focuses on the expectations for the performance of the product when used in the customary, usual and reasonably foreseeable manners. The cause of action is one involving true "strict" liability, since recovery may be had upon a showing that the product was not minimally safe for its expected purpose--without regard to the feasibility of alternative designs or the manufacturer's "reasonableness" in marketing it in that unsafe condition.
The action arose out of a June 9, 1986 accident in which plaintiff Nancy Denny was severely injured when the Ford Bronco II that she was driving rolled over. The rollover accident occurred when Denny slammed on her brakes in an effort to avoid a deer that had walked directly into her motor vehicle's path. Denny and her spouse sued Ford Motor Co., the vehicle's manufacturer, asserting claims for negligence, strict products liability and breach of implied warranty of merchantability The case went to trial in the District Court for the Northern District of New York in October of 1992.
Were the elements of New York's causes of action for strict products liability and breach of implied warranty always coextensive?
The court found that under the relevant state law, the factual judgments would lead to the concomitant legal conclusion that injured party's strict product liability cause of action was not viable but that automobile manufacturer was nonetheless liable for breach of its promise that the vehicle was "merchantable" or "fit" for its "ordinary purposes." The court thus held that the two causes of action were not identical and that there was no evidence to show that implied warranty claim was necessarily subsumed by the strict liability claim. Accordingly, the court concluded that the underlying verdict was theoretically reconcilable under state law.
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