205 N.W.2d 104 (S.D. 1973), 11012, Engberg v. Ford Motor Co.

Docket Nº:11012.
Citation:205 N.W.2d 104, 87 S.D. 196
Opinion Judge:The opinion of the court was delivered by: Winans
Party Name:Frances J. ENGBERG, Executrix of the Estate of Laurel A. Engberg, Deceased, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. FORD MOTOR COMPANY, a corporation, Defendant and Appellant.
Attorney:Woods, Fuller, Shultz & Smith and H. L. Fuller, Sioux Falls, for defendant and appellant.
Case Date:March 08, 1973
Court:Supreme Court of South Dakota

Page 104

205 N.W.2d 104 (S.D. 1973)

87 S.D. 196

Frances J. ENGBERG, Executrix of the Estate of Laurel A.

Engberg, Deceased, Plaintiff and Respondent,

v.

FORD MOTOR COMPANY, a corporation, Defendant and Appellant.

No. 11012.

Supreme Court of South Dakota.

March 8, 1973

[87 S.D. 198]

Page 105

Woods, Fuller, Shultz & Smith and H. L. Fuller, Sioux Falls, for defendant and appellant.

Whiting, Lynn, Jackson, Shultz, Ireland & Lebrun, and Melvin D. Wedmore, Rapid City, for plaintiff and respondent.

WINANS, Justice.

The plaintiff, Frances J. Engberg, brought this action against the defendant, Ford Motor Company 1 , to recover damages for [87 S.D. 199] the death of her husband, Laurel A. Engberg. In her complaint, the plaintiff alleged that her husband's death was caused by defects in a seat belt of the automobile manufactured by the defendant. The case was tried to a jury on theories of negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty. The jury resolved the issues in favor of the plaintiff and assessed the damages at $15,000. Judgment was entered in accordance with their verdict and the defendant has appealed.

Viewing the record in the light most advantageous to the plaintiff-respondent, as we must, the following facts appear: On or about October 1, 1965, the decedent, Laurel Engberg, purchased a new Ford station wagon from Oines Motor Company of Brookings. Two weeks later, the decedent was involved in a fatal accident just outside of Rapid City. The decedent was alone in his automobile at the time and there were no other cars involved in the accident. The precise cause of the accident was never determined. The evidence indicated that the station wagon left the highway and rolled in the ditch for a considerable distance. The evidence further disclosed that the decedent's body was found on the ground about midway between

Page 106

the place where the vehicle started to roll and where it finally came to a stop. The seat belt on the driver's side was found buckled but broken and there was no evidence of blood inside the car. Moreover, the driver's compartment of the station wagon remained essentially intact after the accident.

At the trial, the plaintiff through expert testimony introducted evidence that the design of the seat belt was defective and that said defect was the proximate cause of the decedent's death. The plaintiff called as a witness Dr. V. R. Nelson, a professor of physics, who has had a considerable amount of experience in accident reconstruction. Dr. Nelson testified that the seat belt served in this case because the boot and belt were rubbing on the frame of the seat causing them to give way under the pressure of less than expectable force. He also stated that in his opinion, the design of the assembly and the installation of the belt was improper to prevent the rubbing that caused the severance. He further testified, over the defendant's objection, that the absence of internal damage to the vehicle indicated that the fatal injury [87 S.D. 200] occurred outside of the car and that had the seat belt remained intact and the decedent remain inside the car, the amount of injury would have been minor.

The plaintiff also called as a witness the Pennington County coroner, George Behrens, who had investigated the accident. Behrens testified that the cause of the decedent's death was a basal skull fracture secondary to a crushed chest. Over the defendant's objection, he concluded that the fatal injury occurred when the decedent struck his head on the ground after being ejected from the station wagon.

Adolph Lee, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota, was qualified as an expert witness by the defendant. In contrast with Dr. Nelson's opinion, Lee...

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