69 Cal.2d 442, 22596, Maloney v. Rath

Docket Nº:22596
Citation:69 Cal.2d 442, 71 Cal.Rptr. 897, 445 P.2d 513
Opinion Judge:[9] Traynor
Party Name:Maloney v. Rath
Attorney:[7] Morgan & Moscone, Charles O. Morgan, Jr., and George R. Moscone for Plaintiff and Appellant. [8] Gassett, Perry & Katzen and Noel B. Gassett for Defendant and Respondent.
Case Date:October 07, 1968
Court:Supreme Court of California

Page 442

69 Cal.2d 442

71 Cal.Rptr. 897, 445 P.2d 513

Kathleen MALONEY, Plaintiff and Appellant,

v.

Ramona M. RATH, Defendant and Respondent.

S.F. 22596.

Supreme Court of California

Oct. 7, 1968.

In Bank

Page 443

Morgan & Moscone, Charles O. Morgan, Jr., and George R. Moscone, San Francisco, for plaintiff and appellant.

Gassett, Perry & Katzen and Noel B. Gassett, San Jose, for defendant and respondent.

TRAYNOR, Chief Justice.

Plaintiff brought this action to recover damages for injuries to her person and property incurred in an automobile accident. She appeals from an adverse judgment and from an order denying her motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the issue of liability.

Page 444

Plaintiff stopped her car in a left-turn lane to wait for a traffic signal to change. Defendant turned into the left-turn lane behind plaintiff and stepped on her brake pedal. Defendant's brakes failed, and a collision ensued.

Defendant neither knew nor had reason to know that her brakes were defective until they failed. The failure was caused by a rupture in a hydraulic hose that gave no warning to defendant of its impending occurrence. Defendant had the brakes completely overhauled by Peter Evanchik of Pete's Chevron Station about three months before the accident. Later, about two weeks before the accident, the car was involved in another collision, and defendant's husband had Evanchik inspect and reqair it. Nothing was done to the brakes at that time. Defendant's expert witness testified that the brakes failed because of a hole in the hydraulic hose that was caused by rubbing of the hose against the right front wheel. The rubbing resulted from faulty installation of the hose at the time the brakes were overhauled. A qualified person inspecting the brakes before they failed would have detected the faulty installation and the evidence of the rubbing.

At the time of the accident section 26300 of the Vehicle Code provided that every motor vehicle 'shall be equipped with brakes adequate to control the movement of the vehicle and to stop and hold the vehicle,' and section 26453 provided that all 'brakes and component parts thereof shall be maintained * * * in good working order.' (See also Veh.Code, § 26454.) A defendant's failure to comply with these provisions gives rise to a presumption of negligence that he may rebut by proof 'that he did what might reasonably be expected of a person of ordinary prudence, acting under similar circumstances, who desired to comply with the law.' (Alarid v. Vanier (1958) 50 Cal.2d 617, 624, 900, see also cases cited on p. 622; Evid.Code, § 669, added by Stats.1967, ch. 650, § 1.)

Defendant offered sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption that she was negligent. The brakes had been overhauled tree months before the accident; the car was inspected for damage and repaired after another accident in the interim; and the brakes gave no warning to defendant of their impending failure. Moreover, she was not negligent in failing to discover the faulty installation of or the growing damage to the hose, for those defects would be apparent only to a mechanic.

Plaintiff contends, however, that proof that defendant was

Page 445

not herself negligent should not absolve her from liability for the damage caused by the failure of her brakes. She contends that the court should reconsider the Alarid decision and hold that a motorist is strictly liable for damage caused by a brake failure or hold that the duty to exercise reasonable care to maintain adequate brakes is nondelegable.

We adhere to the holding of the Alarid case that a violation of a safety provision of the Vehicle Code does not make the violator strictly liable for damage caused by the violation. We are aware, however, of the growing dissatisfaction with the law of negligence as an effective and appropriate means for governing compensation for the increasingly serious harms caused by automobiles. (See Ehrenzweig, Negligence Without Fault (1951); Keeton and O'Connell, Basic Protection for the Traffic Victim (1965); Franklin, Replacing the Negligence Lottery (1967) 53 Va.L.Rev. 774; Keeton, Is There a Place for Negligence in Modern Tort Law? (1967) 53 Va.L.Rev. 886; cf. Urie v. Thompson (1949) 337 U.S. 163, 196, 69 S.Ct. 1018, 93 L.Ed. 1282 (concurring opinion of Frankfurter, J.).) If the problem of fixing responsibility under a system of strict liability were as uncomplicated as it seems to be in this case, a court might be tempted to follow the lead of decisions recognizing strict liability in other circumstances. (See...

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