Camacho v. Honda Motor Co., Ltd., 85SC112

Citation741 P.2d 1240
Decision Date13 July 1987
Docket NumberNo. 85SC112,85SC112
PartiesProd.Liab.Rep. (CCH) P 11,485 Jaime CAMACHO and Kathleen Camacho, Petitioners, v. HONDA MOTOR CO., LTD., a corporation; and American Honda Motor Co., Inc., a California corporation, Respondents.
CourtSupreme Court of Colorado

Roger T. Castle, P.C., Roger T. Castle, Denver, for petitioners.

Greengard & Senter, Richard D. Greengard, Holly E. Rebstock, Steven J. Dawes, Denver, for respondents.

Gerald P. McDermott, Waller, Mark & Allen, P.C., Denis H. Mark, Denver, for amicus curiae The Colorado Trial Lawyers Ass'n.

Holland & Hart, John C. Siegesmund, III, Denver, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, Malcolm E. Wheeler, Charlotte A. Lowell, Los Angeles, Cal., for amici curiae Product Liability Advisory Council, Inc. and Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass'n of the U.S., Inc.


We granted certiorari to review the decision in Camacho v. Honda Motor Co., 701 P.2d 628 (Colo.App.1985), in which the Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court order dismissing claims filed by the petitioners, Jaime Camacho and Kathleen Camacho (the Camachos), against the respondents, Honda Motor Co., Ltd. and American Honda Motor Co., Inc. (Honda). 1 The Court of Appeals held that the trial court properly granted a motion for summary judgment filed by Honda because the absence of leg protection devices could not as a matter of law render a motorcycle a defective and unreasonably dangerous product under the Restatement (Second) of Torts section 402A (1965). We reverse and remand with directions.


In March 1978, Jaime Camacho (Camacho) purchased a new 1978 Honda Hawk motorcycle, model CV400T2, from a Honda dealer. 2 In May 1978, while driving the motorcycle through an intersection, Camacho collided with an automobile and sustained serious leg injuries. Camacho and his wife filed an action against Honda seeking damages for personal injuries, property losses, loss of consortium and exemplary damages. The action was based on several theories, including strict liability. 3 The Camachos alleged that the motorcycle was a defectively designed, unreasonably dangerous product under the Restatement (Second) of Torts section 402A because it was not equipped with "crash bars"--tubular steel bars attached to the motorcycle frame to protect the rider's legs in the event of a collision. They asserted that if such crash bars had been installed on the motorcycle, Camacho's leg injuries would have been mitigated.

Two mechanical engineers employed by the Camachos testified in depositions that, in light of their extensive research work on motorcycle crash bars, including testing conducted for the United States Department of Transportation, the state of the art in mechanical engineering and motorcycle design was such that effective injury-reducing, leg protection devices were feasible in March 1978 and that several manufacturers other than Honda had made such devices available as optional equipment; 4 that, although room for further improvement of crash bars existed in March 1978, crash bars then available from manufacturers other than Honda provided some protection in low-speed collisions and, in particular, would have reduced or completely avoided the serious leg injuries suffered by Camacho; and that Honda itself had conducted some of the seminal research on crash bars in 1969, as the result of which Honda's engineers had concluded that injury-reducing crash bars could be manufactured by strengthening the steel bars which had been tested and providing strong bolts to attach the bars to the motorcycle frame.

Honda moved for summary judgment, arguing that as a matter of law a motorcycle lacking crash bars cannot be deemed unreasonably dangerous. The trial court granted the motion, concluding that (1) because the danger of leg injury was obvious and foreseeable, Honda had no duty to totally alter the nature of its product by installing crash bars; and (2) Honda had no duty under the crashworthiness doctrine to add a safety feature to its product to reduce the severity of injuries resulting from accidents.

In agreeing with the trial court's conclusions, the Court of Appeals held that the determination of whether a product is unreasonably dangerous because of a design defect is to be made on the basis of whether the extent of the danger "would have been fully anticipated by or within the contemplation of" the ordinary user or consumer. Camacho v. Honda Motor Co., 701 P.2d 628, 631 (Colo.App. 1985). Because the criteria applied by the trial court and the Court of Appeals are inconsistent with our decisions in Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp. v. Heath, 722 P.2d 410 (Colo.1986), and Union Supply Co. v. Pust, 196 Colo. 162, 583 P.2d 276 (1978), we reverse and remand for further proceedings.


In Roberts v. May, 41 Colo.App. 82, 583 P.2d 305 (1978), the Court of Appeals recognized the applicability of the "crashworthiness" doctrine in Colorado. Under this doctrine, a motor vehicle manufacturer may be liable in negligence or strict liability for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident where a manufacturing or design defect, though not the cause of the accident, caused or enhanced the injuries. See generally 2 L. Frumer & M. Friedman, Products Liability § 3.03[f][v] (1987). The doctrine was first recognized in the landmark case of Larsen v. General Motors Corp., 391 F.2d 495 (8th Cir.1968), in which the court noted that a manufacturer's duty encompassed designing and building a product reasonably fit and safe for its intended use, that automobiles are intended for use on the roadways and that injury-producing collisions are a frequent, foreseeable and statistically expectable result of such normal use. Incumbent upon the automobile manufacturer was a duty of reasonable care in the design and manufacture of its product, including a duty to use reasonable care to minimize the injurious effects of a foreseeable collision by employing commonsense safety features. Larsen v. General Motors Corp., 391 F.2d 495, 501-02. The crashworthiness doctrine has been adopted by the vast majority of courts in other jurisdictions which have considered the issue. E.g., Hermann v. General Motors Corp., 720 F.2d 414 (5th Cir.1983); Sours v. General Motors Corp., 717 F.2d 1511 (6th Cir.1983); Horn v. General Motors Corp., 17 Cal.3d 359, 131 Cal.Rptr. 78, 551 P.2d 398 (1976); Ford Motor Co. v. Evancho, 327 So.2d 201 (Fla.1976); Farmer v. International Harvester Co., 97 Idaho 742, 553 P.2d 1306 (1978); Smith v. Ariens Co., 375 Mass. 620, 377 N.E.2d 954 (1978); Hancock v. Paccar, Inc., 204 Neb. 468, 283 N.W.2d 25 (1979); McMullen v. Volkswagen of America, 274 Or. 83, 545 P.2d 117 (1976); see generally 1 R. Goodman, Automobile Design Liability § 1:4 (2d ed. 1983) (noting the nearly universal acceptance of the crashworthiness doctrine). We agree with the reasoning of those decisions, as did the Court of Appeals in its consideration of this case, and adopt the crashworthiness doctrine for this jurisdiction.

The crashworthiness doctrine has been applied to accidents involving motorcycles. E.g., Taylor v. American Honda Motor Co., 555 F.Supp. 59 (M.D.Fla.1983) (lack of leg protection devices); Stueve v. American Honda Motor Co., 457 F.Supp. 740 (D.Kan.1978) (inability of gas tank to withstand collision); Cota v. Harley Davidson, a Div. of AMF, Inc., 141 Ariz. 7, 684 P.2d 888 (Ariz.App.1984) (inability of gas tank to withstand collision); Nicolodi v. Harley-Davidson Motor Co., 370 So.2d 68 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.1979) (lack of leg protection devices); O'Donnell v. City of Casper, 696 P.2d 1278 (Wyo.1985) (inability of gas tank to withstand collision). Honda argues, however, that motorcycles are inherently dangerous motor vehicles that cannot be made perfectly crashworthy and, therefore, that motorcycle manufacturers should be free of liability for injuries not actually caused by a defect in the design or manufacture of the motorcycle. We find no principled basis to conclude that liability for failure to provide reasonable, cost-acceptable safety features to reduce the severity of injuries suffered in inevitable accidents should be imposed upon automobile manufacturers but not upon motorcycle manufacturers. The use of motorcycles for transportation over roadways is just as foreseeable as the use of automobiles for such purpose. The crashworthiness doctrine does not require a manufacturer to provide absolute safety, but merely to provide some measure of reasonable, cost-effective safety in the foreseeable use of the product. E.g., Larsen v. General Motors Corp., 391 F.2d 495, 501-02; Nicolodi v. Harley-Davidson Motor Co., 370 So.2d 68, 70-71; see generally 1 R. Goodman, Automobile Design Liability § 1:4 (2d ed. 1983). Honda acknowledges that motorcycle accidents are just as foreseeable as automobile accidents and that motorcycle riders face a much greater risk of injury in the event of an accident than do occupants of automobiles. In view of the important goal of encouraging maximum development of reasonable, cost-efficient safety features in the manufacture of all products, the argument that motorcycle manufacturers should be exempt from liability under the crashworthiness doctrine because serious injury to users of that product is foreseeable must be rejected. Cota v. Harley Davidson, a Div. of AMF, Inc., 684 P.2d 888, 894; Nicolodi v. Harley-Davidson Motor Co., 370 So.2d 68, 70-71. 5


In determining the extent of liability of a product manufacturer for a defective product, this court has adopted the doctrine of strict products liability as set forth in the Restatement (Second) of Torts section 402A (1965). Smith v. Home Light & Power Co., 734 P.2d 1051 (Colo.1987); Blueflame Gas, Inc. v. Van Hoose, 679 P.2d 579 (Colo.1984); Anderson v. Heron Eng'g Co., 198 Colo. 391, 604 P.2d 674 (1979); Hiigel v. General Motors Corp., 190 Colo. 57, 544 P.2d 983 (1975). Section 402A provides:


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