Campbell v. General Motors Corp., S.F. 24308

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtBIRD
Citation184 Cal.Rptr. 891,32 Cal.3d 112,649 P.2d 224
Docket NumberS.F. 24308
Decision Date19 August 1982
Parties, 649 P.2d 224, 35 A.L.R.4th 1036 Florence L. CAMPBELL, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, Defendant and Respondent.

Page 891

184 Cal.Rptr. 891
32 Cal.3d 112, 649 P.2d 224, 35 A.L.R.4th 1036
Florence L. CAMPBELL, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, Defendant and Respondent.
S.F. 24308.
Supreme Court of California,
In Bank.
Aug. 19, 1982.

[32 Cal.3d 115]

Page 892

[649 P.2d 225] Jerome Berg, San Francisco, for plaintiff and appellant.

Leonard Sacks, Northridge, Harvey R. Levine, San Diego, Edward I. Pollock, Los Angeles, Robert E. Cartwright, San Diego, William M. Shernoff, Stephen I. Zetterberg, Claremont, Sanford M. Gage, Beverly Hills, Arne Werchick, San Francisco, Ian Herzog, Los Angeles, Glen T. Bashore, North Fork, Wylie Aitken, Santa Ana, Victoria J. De Goff, Berkeley, and James R. McGrath, Glendale, as amici curiae on behalf of plaintiff and appellant.

St. Clair, Zappettini, McFetridge & Griffin, C. D. Zappettini, Cyril Viadro, San Francisco, Otis M. Smith, Don A. Schiemann, Mary Ann McKinnon, and Judith A. Zakens, Detroit, Mich., for defendant and respondent.

Page 893

BIRD, Chief Justice.

What quantum of evidence must the plaintiff in a products liability action produce initially in order to establish a prima facie case of liability under Barker v. Lull Engineering Co. (1978) 20 Cal.3d 413, 143 Cal.Rptr. 225, 573 P.2d 443?

I.

On August 21, 1973, plaintiff, Florence L. Campbell, was injured while riding a bus manufactured by General Motors Corporation (General[32 Cal.3d 116] Motors) and owned and operated by the City and County of San Francisco (City). Following the accident, plaintiff filed suit against both General Motors and the City.

In her complaint, plaintiff alleged that the City had been negligent in its operation of the bus and that this negligence was a proximate cause of her injuries. Specifically, plaintiff claimed that the City bus driver negligently caused the bus to "suddenly lurch, jerk, jolt and abruptly stop, throwing Plaintiff violently from her seat, against interior parts of said [bus] and to the floor ...."

As regards General Motors, the complaint alleged that the bus was defective in design in that plaintiff's seat lacked "handrails or guardrails within reasonable proximity" and that this defect was a proximate cause of her injuries. Accordingly, plaintiff claimed that General Motors was strictly liable for the damages she had sustained.

Because plaintiff settled her claim against the City, the trial was limited to the claim against General Motors. Plaintiff supported that claim with her own testimony and with photographs of the bus. 1 The evidence presented during her case-in-chief may be summarized as follows.

Plaintiff was 62 years old at the time of the accident. When she first boarded the bus, she sat in a double seat but later moved to the first forward-facing single seat on the right side of the bus. Attached at shoulder level above the back of each forward-facing seat was a horizontal metal "grab bar." There was no such bar in front of plaintiff's seat because she faced not the rear of another forward-facing seat but rather the side of a lateral-facing double seat. The only handrail directly in front of plaintiff was the metal armrest attached--at about waist level--to the side of this seat. A vertical metal pole, extending to the ceiling, was attached to the aisle end of the "grab bar" behind plaintiff. A similar pole was attached to the "grab bar" of every alternate seat behind the first forward-facing seat, and to the floor midway along the front of the lateral-facing double seats.

Plaintiff knew that the bus would make a right turn from Market Street onto Eighth Street. As the bus entered this intersection, the bus[32 Cal.3d 117] driver "turned very sharply" and "as he turned [the bus] kept gaining speed." Plaintiff was propelled from her seat. She did not have time to put her foot out to brace herself. She did reach with both arms for something to hold on to but "[t]here was nothing there to grab."

Plaintiff was thrown to the floor on the opposite side of the bus, falling on her left hip. When she hit the floor, "it was like an explosion and I couldn't get my breath and I thought I was dying." Plaintiff was hospitalized for approximately 18 days and used crutches for several months thereafter. Plaintiff testified that she had serious continuing medical problems as a result of the accident.

Plaintiff's husband was questioned on the stand about any changes in his wife's physical condition which he had observed since the accident. He stated that plaintiff previously had been able to move without difficulty, but after the accident, quite the opposite was true.

At the conclusion of plaintiff's case-in-chief on the question of liability, General Motors moved for a judgment of nonsuit.

Page 894

[649 P.2d 227] (See Code Civ.Proc., § 581c.) 2 The company contended that plaintiff had failed to introduce evidence sufficient to establish that the bus was defective in design or that the alleged defect was a proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries.

The trial court granted the motion, dismissed the jury, and entered judgment for General Motors. Plaintiff appeals.

II.

A motion for nonsuit is a procedural device which allows a defendant to challenge the sufficiency of plaintiff's evidence to submit the case to the jury. (See generally, James & Hazard, Civil Procedure (2d ed. 1977) § 7.4, p. 236.) Because a grant of the motion serves to take a case from the jury's consideration, courts traditionally have taken a very restrictive view of the circumstances under which nonsuit is proper. The rule is that a trial court may not grant a defendant's motion for[32 Cal.3d 118] nonsuit if plaintiff's evidence would support a jury verdict in plaintiff's favor. (Ewing v. Cloverleaf Bowl (1978) 20 Cal.3d 389, 395, 143 Cal.Rptr. 13, 572 P.2d 1155; Pike v. Frank G. Hough Co. (1970) 2 Cal.3d 465, 469, 85 Cal.Rptr. 629, 467 P.2d 229; Elmore v. American Motors Corp. (1969) 70 Cal.2d 578, 583, 75 Cal.Rptr. 652, 451 P.2d 84.)

In determining whether plaintiff's evidence is sufficient, the court may not weigh the evidence or consider the credibility of witnesses. Instead, the evidence most favorable to plaintiff must be accepted as true and conflicting evidence must be disregarded. The court must give "to the plaintiff['s] evidence all the value to which it is legally entitled, ... indulging every legitimate inference which may be drawn from the evidence in plaintiff['s] favor ...." (Elmore v. American Motors Corp., supra, 70 Cal.2d at p. 583, 75 Cal.Rptr. 652, 451 P.2d 84.)

Thus, the major issue in the present case is whether, if all legitimate inferences favorable to plaintiff are made, the evidence is sufficient to support her claim that her injuries were proximately caused by a design defect in the General Motors bus. (See Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc. (1963) 59 Cal.2d 57, 62, 27 Cal.Rptr. 697, 377 P.2d 897.) This question necessarily involves the standards for establishing a prima facie case of design defect set forth by this court in Barker v. Lull Engineering Co., supra, 20 Cal.3d 413, 143 Cal.Rptr. 225, 573 P.2d 443.

In Barker, two alternative tests were established for determining whether a product is defectively designed. Under the first test, "a product may be found defective in design if the plaintiff demonstrates that the product failed to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when used in an intended or reasonably foreseeable manner." (Id., at p. 429, 143 Cal.Rptr. 225, 573 P.2d 443.) This standard reflects a warranty analysis and is based on the theory that when a manufacturer places a product on the market, a representation is impliedly made that the product is safe for the tasks it was designed to accomplish. (Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc., supra, 59 Cal.2d at p. 64, 27 Cal.Rptr. 697, 377 P.2d 897.)

The second Barker test involves an evaluation of the design itself. "[A] product may be found defective in design, even if it satisfies ordinary consumer expectations, if through hindsight the jury determines that the product's design embodies 'excessive preventable danger,' or, in other words, if the jury finds that the risk of danger inherent in the challenged design outweighs the benefits of such design." (Barker, supra, 20 Cal.3d at p. 430, 143 Cal.Rptr. 225, 573 P.2d 443.)

[32 Cal.3d 119]

Page 895

[649 P.2d 228] The policies underlying the doctrine of strict products liability mandate shifting the burden of proof under the second test. "The allocation of [this] burden is particularly significant in this context inasmuch as this court's product liability decisions ... have repeatedly emphasized that one of the principal purposes behind the strict product liability doctrine is to relieve an injured plaintiff of many of the onerous evidentiary burdens inherent in a negligence cause of action. Because most of the evidentiary matters which may be relevant to the determination of the adequacy of a product's design under the 'risk-benefit' standard--e.g., the feasibility and cost of alternative designs--are similar to issues typically presented in a negligent design case and involve technical matters peculiarly within the knowledge of the manufacturer, we conclude that once the plaintiff makes a prima facie showing that the injury was proximately caused by the product's design, the burden should appropriately shift to the defendant to prove, in light of the relevant factors, that the product is not defective. Moreover, inasmuch as this conclusion flows from our determination that the fundamental public policies embraced in Greenman dictate that a manufacturer who seeks to escape liability for an injury proximately caused by its product's design on a risk-benefit theory should bear the burden of persuading the trier of fact that its product should not be judged defective, the defendant's burden is one affecting the burden of proof, rather than simply the burden of producing evidence. [Citations.]" (Barker, supra, 20 Cal.3d...

To continue reading

Request your trial
215 practice notes
  • Altman v. HO Sports Co., No. 1:09–cv–1000 AWI JLT.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • May 18, 2011
    ...test and the consumer expectation test, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of causation. Campbell v. General Motors Corp., 32 Cal.3d 112, 119, 184 Cal.Rptr. 891, 649 P.2d 224 (1982); Visueta v. General Motors Corp., 234 Cal.App.3d 1609, 1612 n. 2, 286 Cal.Rptr. 402 (1991) (risk......
  • Edwards v. Centex Real Estate Corp., Nos. A074435
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 27, 1997
    ...v. Facilities Development Co. (1984) 36 Cal.3d 830, 838-839, 206 Cal.Rptr. 136, 686 P.2d 656; Campbell v. General Motors Corp. (1982) 32 Cal.3d 112, 117-118, 184 Cal.Rptr. 891, 649 P.2d 224; Cervantez v. J.C. Penney Co. (1979) 24 Cal.3d 579, 593, 156 Cal.Rptr. 198, 595 P.2d 975; Estate of L......
  • Soule v. General Motors Corp., No. S033144
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • October 27, 1994
    ...under all circumstances may mislead the jury." (Id., at p. 434, 143 Cal.Rptr. 225, 573 P.2d 443.) Campbell v. General Motors Corp. (1982) 32 Cal.3d 112, 184 Cal.Rptr. 891, 649 P.2d 224 (Campbell ) provided additional strong hints about the proper use of the ordinary consumer expectations pr......
  • Cobb v. Gabriele, H029796 (Cal. App. 4/30/2007), H029796
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • April 30, 2007
    ...motion for nonsuit if plaintiff's evidence would support a jury verdict in plaintiff's favor." (Campbell v. General Motors Corp. (1982) 32 Cal.3d 112, 117-118.) "In evaluating a nonsuit motion, the trial court may not weigh the evidence or consider the credibility of witnesses, but must acc......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
215 cases
  • Altman v. HO Sports Co., No. 1:09–cv–1000 AWI JLT.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • May 18, 2011
    ...test and the consumer expectation test, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of causation. Campbell v. General Motors Corp., 32 Cal.3d 112, 119, 184 Cal.Rptr. 891, 649 P.2d 224 (1982); Visueta v. General Motors Corp., 234 Cal.App.3d 1609, 1612 n. 2, 286 Cal.Rptr. 402 (1991) (risk......
  • Edwards v. Centex Real Estate Corp., Nos. A074435
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 27, 1997
    ...v. Facilities Development Co. (1984) 36 Cal.3d 830, 838-839, 206 Cal.Rptr. 136, 686 P.2d 656; Campbell v. General Motors Corp. (1982) 32 Cal.3d 112, 117-118, 184 Cal.Rptr. 891, 649 P.2d 224; Cervantez v. J.C. Penney Co. (1979) 24 Cal.3d 579, 593, 156 Cal.Rptr. 198, 595 P.2d 975; Estate of L......
  • Soule v. General Motors Corp., No. S033144
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • October 27, 1994
    ...under all circumstances may mislead the jury." (Id., at p. 434, 143 Cal.Rptr. 225, 573 P.2d 443.) Campbell v. General Motors Corp. (1982) 32 Cal.3d 112, 184 Cal.Rptr. 891, 649 P.2d 224 (Campbell ) provided additional strong hints about the proper use of the ordinary consumer expectations pr......
  • Cobb v. Gabriele, H029796 (Cal. App. 4/30/2007), H029796
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • April 30, 2007
    ...motion for nonsuit if plaintiff's evidence would support a jury verdict in plaintiff's favor." (Campbell v. General Motors Corp. (1982) 32 Cal.3d 112, 117-118.) "In evaluating a nonsuit motion, the trial court may not weigh the evidence or consider the credibility of witnesses, but must acc......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT