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Vandermark v. Ford Motor Co. - 61 Cal. 2d 256, 37 Cal. Rptr. 896, 391 P.2d 168 (1964)

Rule:

A manufacturer is strictly liable in tort when an article he places on the market, knowing that it is to be used without inspection for defects, proves to have a defect that causes injury to a human being. Since the liability is strict it encompasses defects regardless of their source, and therefore a manufacturer of a completed product cannot escape liability by tracing the defect to a component part supplied by another. Moreover, even before such strict liability was recognized, the manufacturer of a completed product was subject to vicarious liability for the negligence of his suppliers or subcontractors that resulted in defects in the completed product. These rules focus responsibility for defects, whether negligently or nonnegligently caused, on the manufacturer of the completed product, and they apply regardless of what part of the manufacturing process the manufacturer chooses to delegate to third parties.

Facts:

In Oct. 1958. plaintiff Chester Vandermark bought a new automobile from defendant Lorimer Diesel Engine Company, d.b.a. Maywood Bell Ford ("Maywood"). The vehicle was manufactured by defendant Ford Motor Company (Ford"). About six weeks later, while on a freeway, he lost control of the car. It went off the highway to the right and collided with a light post. He and his sister, plaintiff Mary Tresham, suffered serious injuries. They later filed a lawsuit against defendants in California state court pleading causes of action for breach of warranty and negligence. Plaintiffs claimed that there was a sudden failure of the car's braking system. Ford contended that it could not be held liable for negligence in manufacturing the car or strictly liable in tort for placing it on the market without proof that the car was defective when Ford relinquished control over it. Ford pointed out that the car passed through two other authorized Ford dealers before it was sold to Maywood and that Maywood removed the power steering unit before selling the car to Vadermark. The trial court granted Ford's motion for a nonsuit on all causes of action and directed a verdict in favor of Maywood the warranty causes of action. The jury returned a verdict for Maywood on the negligence causes of action, and the trial court entered judgment on the verdict. Plaintiffs appealed.

Issue:

Could Ford or Maywood be held strictly liable in tort for the injuries caused by the defect in Vandermark's car?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court of appeals reversed the nonsuit granted in favor of Fod, reversed that part of the judgment that granted Maywood a directed verdict on the breach of warranty claims, affirmed that part of the judgment rendered in favor of Maywood on the negligence causes of action, and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court held that Ford was strictly liable in tort for plaintiffs' injuries. According to the court, a manufacturer was strictly liable in tort when an article it placed on the market, knowing that it was to be used without inspection for defects, proved to have a defect that caused injury to a human being. Since the liability was strict it encompassed defects regardless of their source, and therefore a manufacturer of a completed product could not escape liability by tracing the defect to a component part supplied by another. Since plaintiffs introduced or offered substantial evidence that they were injured as a result of a defect that was present in the car when Maywood—Ford's authorized dealer—delivered it to Vandermark, the trial court erred in granting a nonsuit on the causes of action by which plaintiffs sought to establish that Ford was strictly liable. The court also ruled that the doctrine of strict liability applied to Maywood because it was in the business of selling cars. According to the court, retailers were an integral part of the overall producing and marketing enterprise that should bear the cost of injuries resulting from defective products. Regardless of the obligations it assumed by contract, Maywood was subject to strict liability in tort because it was in the business of selling automobiles, one of which proved to be defective and caused injury to human beings.

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