Law School Case Brief
Rotche v. Buick Motor Co - 358 Ill. 507, 193 N.E. 529 (1934)
It is a general rule that manufacturers are not liable in damages to persons with whom they have no contractual relations for personal injuries sustained by such persons because of the negligent manufacture of the former's product. The reason assigned is that an injury to any person other than the owner for whom the article was built and to whom it was delivered cannot ordinarily be foreseen or reasonably anticipated as the probable result of negligence in its construction. To this an exception has long been recognized with reference to products which are inherently and normally dangerous, such as poisons, contaminated foods, weapons, explosives, and the like—products which are normally destructive in their nature.
Plaintiff Nathan Rotche sustained injuries when the brakes in car failed and his car ran off the road. Rotche then brought an action of trespass on the case to recover damages for personal injuries in Illinois state court against the manufacturer of the car, defendant Buick Motor Company ("Buick"). The seller of the car, defendant the Cicero Buick Sales Company ("Cicero") was also a named defendant. After trial, the jury found defendants guilty and assessed Rotche's damages at $20,000. After the return of the verdict, Cicero paid the plaintiff $2,500 and obtained from him a dismissal of the suit as to it and a covenant not to sue. Motions by Buick for a new trial and in arrest of judgment were denied and judgment was rendered against Buick for $17,500. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the judgment. Buick was granted a writ of certiorari.
Did competent evidence support Rotche's claim that he sustained injuries due to the negligence of Buick?
The state supreme court reversed the appellate and trial courts' judgments and remanded the case to the trial court. The court ruled that the evidence did not support the verdict. The court acknowledged that Buick, as the car manufacturer, could potentially be held liable for negligence to one with whom it had no contractual relations because the cars that it made were inherently dangerous. However, the court stated that there was no competent evidence presented that the car's braking system was defective when it left the factory or when the accident occurred. The competent evidence failed to show that Buick was negligent in its construction or inspection of the car's braking system before it was sold to Cicero.
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