335 So.2d 134 (Ala. 1976), SC 1488, Atkins v. American Motors Corp.

Docket Nº:SC 1488.
Citation:335 So.2d 134
Opinion Judge:JONES, Justice.
Party Name:Carol Powers ATKINS, as Administratrix of the Estate of James Samalone Atkins, Deceased v. AMERICAN MOTORS CORP. et al.
Attorney:Cloud, Berry, Ables, Blanton & Tatum and Loyd H. Little, Jr., Huntsville, for appellant. Lanier, Shaver & Herring, Huntsville, for appellees.
Case Date:May 21, 1976
Court:Supreme Court of Alabama

Page 134

335 So.2d 134 (Ala. 1976)

Carol Powers ATKINS, as Administratrix of the Estate of James Samalone Atkins, Deceased

v.

AMERICAN MOTORS CORP. et al.

SC 1488.

Supreme Court of Alabama.

May 21, 1976

Page 135

Rehearing Denied July 16, 1976.

Page 136

Cloud, Berry, Ables, Blanton & Tatum and Loyd H. Little, Jr., Huntsville, for appellant.

Lanier, Shaver & Herring, Huntsville, for appellees.

JONES, Justice.

Does a complaint state a valid claim in tort where it alleges:

(1) the defendant, as manufacturer, proximately caused the plaintiff's intestate's death by selling a product in a defective condition which was unreasonably dangerous to him as its ultimate user;

(2) the defendant was engaged in the business of selling such product; and

(3) it was expected to, and did, reach the user without substantial change in the condition in which it was sold?

The answer is 'Yes.' The order of dismissal of Count 7, which substantially averred the elements set out above, is reversed and this cause is remanded for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion. 1

Page 137

FACTS

This appeal tests only the validity of the trial Court's ruling on the pleadings. There was no trial. The only 'facts' are those contained in the plaintiff's complaint which are summarized as follows:

James Samalone Atkins was operating a 1970 Gremlin automobile in Huntsville on December 6, 1974, when a Lincoln Continental driven by Roland Dean Brown, struck him from the rear. The impact caused the passenger compartment of Atkin's vehicle to fill with burning gasoline and Atkins suffered severe burns from which he died several hours later.

In summary, plaintiff's complaint, averring the foregoing facts and elements of tort liability, contends that American Motors' product was defective in manufacture and design in that the gas tank was located in such a manner as to be immediately and directly available to penetration and puncture, and the shell and bumper were both inadequate to provide any protection to the gasoline tank from an external force.

PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS

Our holding rejects the adoption of the pure strict tort liability theory urged by the plaintiff-appellant. On the other hand, it is not an adherence to the traditional negligence theory of tort liability urged by the defendant-appellee. Therefore, we deem it appropriate to preface our analyses and conclusions with certain initial observations.

The approval of the complaint containing essentially the language of the Restatement of Torts 2d, § 402A, is not the equivalent of adoption in toto of the Restatement's concept of strict tort liability in products liability cases. We hold that a complaint substantially following the Restatement's elements of liability will withstand a motion to dismiss. Otherwise stated, 'negligence' is not an essential averment in the statement of a claim. 2 Contrary to plaintiff's 'economic' or 'social' theory of recovery, however, we retain the 'fault' concept based on a standard of conduct causally related in fact to the defective condition of the unreasonably dangerous or unsafe product. As we shall later develop, the practical distinction, then, between our holding and the Restatement is that our holding will allow certain affirmative defenses not recognized by the Restatement's no-fault concept of liability.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Strict tort liability in the area of products liability law arose to overcome two obstacles to consumers' recovery against suppliers of defective chattels. These obstacles were (1) the intricacies of the law of sales (such as privity, disclaimer of warranty, and notice of breach) which thwarted consumer recovery under the theory of warranty, and (2) the difficulty of proving standards of care and negligence within the complex manufacturing system which brings most consumer goods to the market place. The history of the development of products liability law reflects society's attempt to balance its need for industrial expansion with the desire to protect the consuming public from unreasonably dangerous products.

The first landmark case in the field is Winterbottom v. Wright, 10 M. & W. 109, 152 Eng.Rep. 402 (1842), which imposed the privity requirement of contract law upon a negligence cause of action to protect the emerging industrial revolution from the 'most absurd and outrageous consequences' of an avalanche of tort actions

Page 138

against negligent manufacturers. For nearly 75 years after Winterbottom, the privity requirement in negligence cases was attacked and weakened with exceptions for 'imminently' and 'inherently' dangerous products until finally in MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co., 217 N.Y. 382, 111 N.E. 1050 (1916), the exceptions had consumed the rule, and the privity requirement was abandoned in negligence based products liability cases. While MacPherson was a major advance in consumer protection, the second obstacle to recovery--the difficulty of proving a manufacturer's lack of due care--still plagued plaintiffs. The only course available to injured consumers who could not meet the negligence burden of proof was the theory of implied warranty, but the warranty theory was encumbered with the traditional contract requirements and defenses such as privity.

This obstacle to warranty recovery prevailed until 1960 when Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motors, 32 N.J. 358, 161 A.2d 69 (1960), held both the manufacturer and the retailer of the defective automobile liable for personal injury on an implied warranty theory without the necessity of privity of contract. After the Henningsen case, all that was required to establish strict tort liability in products liability law was to abandon the old warranty nomenclature and define the elements of the new tort. These final steps were taken by the American Law Institute in § 402A of the Second Restatement of Torts, and were first followed by Justice Traynor, speaking for the California Court in the celebrated case of Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, 59 Cal.2d 57, 27 Cal.Rptr. 697, 377 P.2d 897 (1962). Greenman, although the plaintiff's only statement of claim was breach of warranty, dismisses warranty terminology, saying that the progression of case law in the area of products liability makes 'clear that the liability is not one governed by the law of contract warranties but by the law of strict liability in tort.'

Justice Traynor then defines the new tort action:

'To establish the manufacturer's liability it was sufficient that plaintiff proved that he was injured while using the Shopsmith in a way it was intended to be used as a result of a defect in design and manufacture of which plaintiff was not aware that made the Shopsmith unsafe for its intended use.'

With § 402A of the Restatement and the Greenman opinion, both obstacles to consumer recovery for personal injuries in products liability cases were overcome. The obstacle of privity and contractual defenses was banished by changing the nature of the cause of action from contract to tort, and the obstacle of proving lack of due care was eliminated from the new tort action by removing the requirement that the product's defect resulted from the seller's negligence. Since Greenman, the concept of strict liability in tort has been accepted and applied in more than thirty states. 'The transition from industrial revolution to a settled industrial society' 3 was complete.

RESTATEMENT'S NO-FAULT CONCEPT

While many may applaud the efforts of these courts to make the law more viable and responsive to the realities of modern society, in retrospect, our analysis of this progression causes us to take exception to two fundamental aspects of the Restatement's concept of strict liability:

(1) the no-fault precept which imposes liability equally on all 'sellers' without regard to culpability causally related in fact to the defective condition of the product, and

(2) the practical abolition of the distinction between the remedies of tort and contract.

Page 139

In reply to defendant's insistence that tort law must retain the moral culpability concept, the plaintiff urges that moral culpability Is a vital and fundamental element of a cause of action in strict tort liability. The moral wrongdoing, says the plaintiff, lies in the distribution of an unreasonably dangerous product which exposes members of society to an unreasonable risk of harm.

This puts the test of culpability in the quality of the product rather than in a standard of conduct resulting in the quality of the product; and it fails to distinguish between one whose conduct has contributed to its defective condition and one whose conduct has not so contributed. Indeed, candor requires a forthright admission that culpability in the traditional sense is lacking and any justification of the new tort theory must be founded on broader moral notions of consumer protection and on economic and social grounds, placing the burden to compensate for loss incurred by defective products on the one best able to prevent the distribution of those products.

For example, to hold liable in tort a retailer of a packaged product, purchased from a reputable manufacturer without knowledge of its unsafe condition, for the mere selling of a defective product is to fully equate for liability purposes a tort remedy with a breach of warranty remedy, the effect of which is to destroy the distinction between the two. We reject this concept.

To be sure, a close analysis of the Restatement, and its exhaustive Comment to § 402A, makes clear that its drafters have no quarrel with those who denominate the Restatement's concept as breach of warranty rather than tort. So, strict liability of the Restatement variety is not tort in the traditional sense; rather, the Restatement fashioned a new cause of action...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP
168 practice notes
  • 77 F.Supp.2d 1220 (M.D.Ala. 1999), Civ. A. 99-D-1006, Clay v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 11th Circuit Middle District of Alabama
    • October 28, 1999
    ...arguable under Alabama law. The Alabama Supreme Court first announced the judicially created AEMLD in Atkins v. American Motors Corp., 335 So.2d 134 (Ala.1976). To establish a claim under the AEMLD a plaintiff must (1) he suffered injury of damages to himself or his property by one who sell......
  • Dalraida Properties, Inc. v. Elastikote, LLC, 062315 ALMDC, 2:14-cv-1213-MHT-PWG
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 11th Circuit Middle District of Alabama
    • June 23, 2015
    ...its genesis in two decisions by the Alabama Supreme Court: Casrell v. Altec Indus., Inc., 335 So.2d 128 (Ala. 1976), and Atkins v. AMC, 335 So.2d 134 (Ala. 1976). "The AEMLD is a judicially created accommodation of Alabama law to the doctrine of strict liability for damage or injuries ......
  • Harper v. Depuy Orthopaedics, Inc., 072511 OHNDC, 1:11 dp 20522
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit Northern District of Ohio
    • July 25, 2011
    ...F.Supp.2d 1207, 1215 (N.D. Ala. 2006) (quoting Casrell v. Altec Indus., 335 So.2d 128, 132 (Ala. 1976); Atkins v. American Motors Corp., 335 So.2d 134, 141 (Ala. 1796); see also Bloodsworth, supra The United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama considered this issue of w......
  • In re Yasmin & Yaz Drospirenone Marketing, Sales Practices & Products Liability Litigation, 051012 ILSDC, 3:09-md-02100-DRH-PMF
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 7th Circuit Southern District of Illinois
    • May 10, 2012
    ...out in section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts. See Casrell v. Altec Indus., 335 So.2d 128; Atkins v. American Motors Corp., 335 So.2d 134. The primary difference between the AEMLD and section 402A is that, unlike section 402A, the AEMLD does not impose a “no-fault” or strict liab......
  • Free signup to view additional results
162 cases
  • 77 F.Supp.2d 1220 (M.D.Ala. 1999), Civ. A. 99-D-1006, Clay v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 11th Circuit Middle District of Alabama
    • October 28, 1999
    ...arguable under Alabama law. The Alabama Supreme Court first announced the judicially created AEMLD in Atkins v. American Motors Corp., 335 So.2d 134 (Ala.1976). To establish a claim under the AEMLD a plaintiff must (1) he suffered injury of damages to himself or his property by one who sell......
  • Dalraida Properties, Inc. v. Elastikote, LLC, 062315 ALMDC, 2:14-cv-1213-MHT-PWG
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 11th Circuit Middle District of Alabama
    • June 23, 2015
    ...its genesis in two decisions by the Alabama Supreme Court: Casrell v. Altec Indus., Inc., 335 So.2d 128 (Ala. 1976), and Atkins v. AMC, 335 So.2d 134 (Ala. 1976). "The AEMLD is a judicially created accommodation of Alabama law to the doctrine of strict liability for damage or injuries ......
  • Harper v. Depuy Orthopaedics, Inc., 072511 OHNDC, 1:11 dp 20522
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit Northern District of Ohio
    • July 25, 2011
    ...F.Supp.2d 1207, 1215 (N.D. Ala. 2006) (quoting Casrell v. Altec Indus., 335 So.2d 128, 132 (Ala. 1976); Atkins v. American Motors Corp., 335 So.2d 134, 141 (Ala. 1796); see also Bloodsworth, supra The United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama considered this issue of w......
  • In re Yasmin & Yaz Drospirenone Marketing, Sales Practices & Products Liability Litigation, 051012 ILSDC, 3:09-md-02100-DRH-PMF
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 7th Circuit Southern District of Illinois
    • May 10, 2012
    ...out in section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts. See Casrell v. Altec Indus., 335 So.2d 128; Atkins v. American Motors Corp., 335 So.2d 134. The primary difference between the AEMLD and section 402A is that, unlike section 402A, the AEMLD does not impose a “no-fault” or strict liab......
  • Free signup to view additional results
2 firm's commentaries
  • Product Liability Update For Retailers: Inherit The Whirlwind
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • March 30, 2012
    ...an opportunity to inspect the product that was superior to the knowledge or opportunity of the consumer. Atkins v. American Motor Corp., 335 So.2d 134 (Ala. 1976). However, this protection is also coming under attack in the minority of states that apply it. The Alabama Supreme Court recentl......
  • The Failure to Warn of Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome
    • United States
    • JD Supra United States
    • February 22, 2017
    ...Prods. Liab. Litig.), 144 F. Supp. 3d 699, 719 (E.D. Pa. 2015). 5 See, e.g., Terry, 144 F. Supp. 3d at 719; Atkins v. Am. Motors Corp., 335 So. 2d 134, 148 (Ala. 6 See, e.g., Soproni v. Polygon Apt. Partners, 137 Wn.2d 319, 328, 971 P.2d 500 (1999); Miller v. Lee Apparel Co., 19 Kan. App. 2......
4 books & journal articles