Soule v. Gen. Motors Corp.

8 Cal. 4th 548, 34 Cal. Rptr. 2d 607, 882 P.2d 298 (1994)



A party is entitled upon request to correct nonargumentative instructions on every theory of the case advanced by him which is supported by substantial evidence. The trial court may not force the litigant to rely on abstract generalities, but must instruct in specific terms that relate the party's theory to the particular case.


In a tort action for enhanced collision injuries allegedly caused by an uncrashworthy vehicle, plaintiff automobile owner contended that she was seriously injured in an accidental collision as a result of defects in her automobile caused by the negligence of defendant automobile manufacturer. Defendant denied any defect. The trial court instructed the jury that a manufacturer is liable for a design defect if it fails to meet “ordinary consumer expectations.” It however, refused to accept defendant’s request for a special instruction on causation. Eventually, the trial court ruled in favor of plaintiff, and the court of appeal affirmed. Defendant sought review.


Did the trial court properly give the jury an “ordinary consumer expectations” instruction to determine design defect?




The court held that the trial court erred by giving an "ordinary consumer expectations" instruction in the complex case and by denying defendant's request for a special instruction on causation. Absent any proof of actual prejudice in the record, however, the court affirmed the judgment for plaintiff because both errors were harmless and neither error was reversible error per se.

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