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For purposes of imposing strict liability, a defective condition may arise in a product not only from harmful ingredients, not characteristic of the product itself either as to presence or quantity, but also from foreign objects contained in the product, from decay or deterioration before sale, or from the way in which the product is prepared or packed. No reason is apparent for distinguishing between the product itself and the container in which it is supplied; and the two are purchased by the user or consumer as an integrated whole. Where the container is itself dangerous, the product is sold in a defective condition. The container cannot logically be separated from the contents when the two are sold as a unit, and the liability arises not only when the consumer drinks the beverage and is poisoned by it, but also when he is injured by the bottle while he is handling it preparatory to consumption.
On March 26, 1974, plaintiff Shaffer ordered a glass of wine at the Victoria Station, a restaurant operated by defendant. In the course of taking his first or second sip, the wine glass broke in Mr. Shaffer's hand, resulting in alleged permanent injury. Shaffer brought this action based upon three theories: negligence, breach of implied warranty under the Uniform Commercial Code, and strict liability under the theory of Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A (1965). The manufacturer of the glass was named as a defendant, but was never served. Prior to trial, as counsel and the trial judge were discussing proposed instructions, Shaffer’s attorney indicated that he could not prove negligence, and wished to submit the case to the jury on the grounds of breach of warranty and strict liability. Shaffer then took a voluntary nonsuit on the negligence issue. At the same time, the court ruled the case sounded in negligence alone, and granted the defendant's motion for dismissal. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
Do warranty and strict liability principles apply to beverage containers such as a wine glass?
The court held that under the Uniform Commercial Code, the serving of food or drink to be consumed on the premises or elsewhere was a sale, and that such food and drink was required to be adequately contained. Both the wine and the container were required to be fit for the ordinary purpose for which they were used, and since Shaffer alleged that the drink sold was unfit, he stated a cause of action. The court also held that Shaffer stated a cause of action under the doctrine of strict liability in tort because where a product was sold in a container, the two were purchased as an integrated whole. If the container itself was dangerous, then the product was sold in a "defective condition."