Codling v. Paglia

Decision Date03 May 1973
Docket Number2,Nos. 1,s. 1
Citation298 N.E.2d 622,345 N.Y.S.2d 461,32 N.Y.2d 330
Parties, 298 N.E.2d 622, 13 UCC Rep.Serv. 89 Marcia CODLING et al., Respondents, v. Christino PAGLIA et al., Appellants. Christino PAGLIA, Respondent, v. CHRYSLER CORPORATION, Appellant. Action
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

Sheila L. Birnbaum, Howard M. Lester, Emile Z. Berman and A. Harold Frost, New York City, for Chrysler Corp., appellant.

Neil Hesson, Jr., Albany, for Christino Paglia in Action No. 1, appellant.

John T. DeGraff, Jr., Carroll J. Mealey and Frederick C. Riester, Albany, for respondents in Action No. 1.

Harvey M. Lifset, Albany, for respondent in Action No. 2.

JONES, Judge.

We hold that today the manufacturer of a defective product may be held liable to an innocent bystander, without proof of negligence, for damages sustained in consequence of the defect.

On August 2, 1967, a clear, dry day, Christino Paglia was driving his Chrysler automobile southerly on Route 144 just south of Albany, when suddenly the vehicle crossed the solid double line into the northbound lane of traffic and collided head on with an automobile owned by Marcia Codling and being driven by her husband, Frank, in the opposite or northerly direction.

Paglia had purchased his 1967 Chrysler Newport Custom sedan about four months before the accident and had driven it just over 4,000 miles. At no time prior to the accident had he experienced any difficulty with its steering mechanism. At the time of the accident he was traveling at a speed of 45 to 50 miles per hour, when suddenly and unexplainably his vehicle started to drift over the double solid line into the northbound lane. There was evidence that Paglia neither blew his horn nor applied his brakes, although short skid marks were observed. The Codling vehicle, on the other hand, had slowed down and nearly stopped just before the collision.

In Action No. 1 Marcia Codling, owner and passenger, and Frank Codling, her husband and driver of the Coding vehicle, sued Paglia in negligence and Chrysler in negligence and breach of warranty, seeking recovery for personal injuries and medical expenses and loss of services; Paglia cross-claimed against Chrysler to recover over any judgment returned against him in favor of the Codlings. After the jury was drawn the Codlings settled their claims against Paglia on his payment of $50,000 to each of them, and Paglia's cross claim against Chrysler was severed and reserved for adjudication by the court after trial.

In Action No. 2 Paglia sued Chrysler in negligence and warranty for his own personal injuries and for property damage to his automobile.

The two cases proceeded to trial together. Over objections of Chrysler the trial court submitted two specific written questions to the jury, the first related to the negligence theory, and the second concerning the breach of warranty count:

'Did the defendant Chrysler Corporation negligently manufacture and assemble the Paglia automobile with a defective power assist steering system?'

'Did the defendant Chrysler Corporation breach its implied warranty of merchantability and fitness of the Paglia automobile?'

The court further charged the jury: 'If the product is in fact defective * * * the manufacturer is liable to any person properly using the product and to persons not using the defective product who are innocent bystanders, for injury resulting from its defective and unfit condition.' Chrysler also took exception to a charge that in Action No. 2 contributory negligence was not a defense to Paglia's action for personal injuries and property damage against Chrysler for breach of warranty.

By a vote of 10 to 2, the jury answered the first specific question submitted in the negative (i.e., made a finding of no negligence on the part of Chrysler) and the second question in the affirmative (i.e., made a finding of breach of warranty by Chrysler). In Action No. 1 the jury returned verdicts in favor of Frank Codling against Chrysler in the amount of $150,000, which after deduction of the $50,000 paid by Paglia resulted in a net verdict of $100,000; and in favor of Marcia Codling against Chrysler, in the amount of $200,000, which after deduction of the corresponding $50,000 paid by Paglia resulted in a net verdict of $150,000. Both verdicts were, of course, based on breach of warranty and not negligence. Following the trial, in Action No. 1 Paglia was granted summary judgment against Chrysler on his cross claim to recoup the $100,000 he had paid the Codlings.

In Action No. 2 the jury returned a verdict for Paglia, as plaintiff, in the amount of $15,000 to which was added, pursuant to stipulation, $2,760 for property damage suffered by him. Recovery here, too, was on the theory of breach of warranty. Again, we note that the jury found no negligence on Chrysler's part.

On cross appeals, the Appellate Division, Third Department, in Action No. 1, affirmed the jury verdicts in favor of the Codlings against Chrysler, but reversed the judgment for Paglia on his cross claim against Chrysler and dismissed that cross claim. In Action No. 2 the Appellate Division affirmed the jury verdict against Chrysler in favor of Paglia for his own injuries and property damage.

In Action No. 1 Paglia has appealed as of right to our court from the Appellate Division's reversal of his judgment over against Chrysler and the dismissal of his cross claim. Chrysler appeals by permission in both Actions No. 1 and No. 2.

In our view there was ample evidence in the record to support the factual determinations made by the jury--that Chrysler breached its implied warranty of merchantability and fitness, and that such breach was a proximate cause of the accident.

The uncontradicted proof was that Paglia's automobile 'went to the left' and that he 'tried to steer to the right' but that 'she locked on me or something.' 'I couldn't steer right. It went to the left and I tried to steer to the right and she wouldn't budge, she wouldn't give.' Counsel for Chrysler lay great stress on the alleged failure of proof of any specific defect in the power steering system and the inadequacy of plaintiffs' tests to prove the defect. Claim is also made that even if a defect at the time of the accident be assumed, there was no proof that the defect existed at the time the automobile left the Chrysler plant. These issues were fairly put to the jury by the trial court on the instructions (to which no exceptions were taken):

'While the burden is upon the plaintiff to prove that the product was defective and that the defect existed while the product was in the manufacturer's possession, plaintiff is not required to prove the specific defect, especially where the product is complicated in nature. Proof of necessary facts may be circumstantial. Though the happening of the accident is not proof of a defective condition, a defect may be inferred from proof that the product did not perform as intended by the manufacturer.'

'* * * that for the defendant Chrysler Corporation to be held liable, the defect need not be apparent at the time the product left the factory, but may be merely a latent defect or hidden defect which later arises and causes damage.'

We are bound under the circumstances to respect the findings of fact made by the jury, there being evidence in the record for their support. With the jury's conclusion that the steering mechanism of the automobile was not fit for the purpose for which it was intended and that Chrysler, therefore, breached its implied warranty, we reach the question whether Chrysler's liability for such breach extends to the Codlings, nonuser innocent bystanders with respect to the vehicle.

We start with a thumbnail historical catalogue of products liability cases in our court. For many years the law was clear that '(t)here can be no warranty where there is no privity of contract.' (Turner v. Edison Stor. Battery Co., 248 N.Y. 73, 74, 161 N.E. 423, 424). The crumbling of the citadel began with Greenberg v. Lorenz, 9 N.Y.2d 195, 213 N.Y.S.2d 39, 173 N.E.2d 773 in which recovery was allowed an infant plaintiff for injuries caused by pieces of sharp metal found in a can of salmon, notwithstanding that the canned food had been purchased by her father. Next came Randy Knitwear v. American Cyanamid Co., 11 N.Y.2d 5, 226 N.Y.S.2d 363, 181 N.E.2d 399 in which the manufacturer of a chemical used for treating fabrics to prevent shrinkage was held liable to a remote purchaser. Then in Goldberg v. Kollsman Instrument Corp., 12 N.Y.2d 432, 240 N.Y.S.2d 592, 191 N.E.2d 81 an airplane manufacturer, though not the manufacturer of the defective component part, was cast in liability for wrongful death of a passenger. And in Guarino v. Mine Safety Appliance Co., 25 N.Y.2d 460, 306 N.Y.S.2d 942, 255 N.E.2d 173 the manufacturer of a defective oxygen-type protective mask was held liable for injuries sustained by persons who attempted to rescue users of the mask, under the doctrine of 'danger invites rescue'.

As we are aware, the erosion of the citadel of privity has been proceeding apace and even more rapidly in other jurisdictions, all with the enthusiastic support of text writers and the authors of law review articles as evidenced by an extensive literature. Once one exception has been made, others have followed as appealing fact situations presented instances in which, in language of result, liability has been imposed to avoid injustice and for the protection of the public. Fact situations where recovery was allowed have shifted from those in which the touchstone was said to be the character of the product manufactured (e.g., dangerous instrumentalities, or household products) to those in which the result turned on the classification of the injured person (e.g., member of the family, employee, user, rescuer).

The dynamic growth of the law in this area has been a testimonial to the adaptability of our judicial system and its resilient capacity to respond...

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364 cases
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    ...breach of warranty. See, e.g., Cottom v. McGuire Funeral Service, Inc., 262 A.2d 807, 809 (D.C.App.1970); Codling v. Paglia, 32 N.Y.2d 330, 345 N.Y.S.2d 461, 298 N.E.2d 622 (1973). Other states adhere to the Section 402A formulation: A plaintiff must prove that the product that caused his i......
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