Evans v. General Motors Corporation, 15278.

Citation359 F.2d 822
Decision Date15 April 1966
Docket NumberNo. 15278.,15278.
PartiesBarbara F. EVANS, Personal Representative of the Estate of Roy Evans, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)

Theodore Lockyear, Evansville, Ind., for appellant.

Thomas M. Scanlon, Raymond W. Gray, Jr., Barnes, Hickam, Pantzer & Boyd, Indianapolis, Ind., for defendant-appellee.

Before KNOCH, CASTLE and KILEY, Circuit Judges.

KNOCH, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff, Barbara F. Evans, personal representative of the Estate of Roy Evans, deceased, brought this action in the United States District Court to recover damages on behalf of the decedent's widow and four dependent minor children, on the ground that his death was caused by the allegedly negligent design of the 1961 Chevrolet station wagon manufactured by the defendant, General Motors Corporation. Plaintiff's amended complaint in three counts charges negligence, breach of implied warranty, and strict tort liability.

The amended complaint asserts that while decedent was driving across an intersection in the aforementioned station wagon, it was struck from the left side by another automobile, and that the left side of the station wagon collapsed in upon the decedent, inflicting fatal injuries because the station wagon was designed with an "X" frame which did not have side frame rails to protect a driver involved in side impact collisions. Plaintiff's amended complaint incorporated a reprint of a publication in which a rival manufacturer advertises the alleged superiority of its perimeter frame over the "X" frame used by other automobile makers.

After pretrial conferences, oral argument, and submission of briefs, the District Court dismissed the amended complaint on the ground that each count failed to state a claim against the defendant upon which relief could be granted. This appeal followed.

Plaintiff's theory is that the collision which occurred was a foreseeable emergency and that by omitting side frame rails, defendant created an unreasonable risk of harm to occupants of the automobile it manufactured.

Plaintiff asserts that defendant was negligent in designing and in failing to test the design of the automobile; that defendant breached implied warranties that the automobile was of merchantable quality and reasonably fit for use as an automobile; that defendant placed in the stream of commerce an automobile in a dangerous and defective condition in that it was equipped with an "X" frame lacking side frame protection, thus proximately causing the fatal injuries to the decedent when the automobile was involved in a broadside collision, for which the defendant is strictly liable to plaintiff.

The major question before us is the nature of the duty which an automobile manufacturer owes to users of its product. This presents an issue of law for the Court. Union Traction Co. of Indiana v. Berry, 1919, 188 Ind. 514, 520-521, 121 N.E. 655, 657, 124 N.E. 737; Kahn v. Chrysler Corporation, D.C., S.D., Tex. 1963, 221 F.Supp. 677, 678.

The defendant concedes that it had a duty to design its automobile to be reasonably fit for the purpose for which it was made, without hiding defects which would make it dangerous to persons so using it.

Plaintiff does not assert that defendant's design could have functioned to avoid the collision. Plaintiff contends that in a trial plaintiff would prove, by expert opinion and subsequently adopted improvements in design by defendant and others, that the solid steel side rails of a perimeter frame provide added protection against impacts on the body sides. Plaintiff argues that the defendant's "X" frame permitted the side of the automobile to collapse against the decedent when his station wagon was struck broadside by another vehicle. Plaintiff does not assert that the "X" frame caused the decedent's automobile to be driven into the path of the striking car or prevented it from being driven out of that path. Nor does plaintiff contend that the decedent could not have been killed or injured in this same collision had the 1961 Chevrolet station wagon been designed with a perimeter frame.

A manufacturer is not under a duty to make his automobile accident-proof or fool-proof; nor must he render the vehicle "more" safe where the danger to be avoided is obvious to all. Campo v. Scofield, 1950, 301 N.Y. 468, 95 N.E. 2d 802, 804. Perhaps it would be desirable to require manufacturers to construct automobiles in which it would be safe to collide, but that would be a legislative function, not an aspect of judicial interpretation of existing law. Campo v. Scofield, supra, 805.

Plaintiff's reliance on Elliott v. General Motors Corp., 7 Cir., 1961, 296 F.2d 125, and MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co., 1916, 217 N.Y. 382, 111 N.E. 1050, L.R.A. 1916F, 696, is misplaced. Elliott concerned a sharp edged splash shield, hidden from view, but placed where a mechanic would have to put his hands to repair the automobile. While repairing the automobile, Loraine Elliott extended his hand and arm through the splash shield opening, which was designed to allow a mechanic to gain entrance to the engine and oil pan from beneath the automobile. The dangerously sharp and defective edge severed nerves, tendons, muscles, and arteries, permanently disabling his arm and hand, MacPherson involved a defective automobile wheel which had been made by another and sold to the manufacturer who failed to inspect it. While the plaintiff in MacPherson was riding in the automobile, it collapsed because of the defective wheel.

The other cases on which plaintiff relies are also distinguishable on their facts. We note a few examples. In J. I. Case Co. v. Sandefur, Inc., Indiana, 1964, 197 N.E.2d 519, it was necessary for the plaintiff to step on the cover of an auger in a farm combine to clear the hopper. It collapsed under him because of hidden defects: there was no supporting brace or safety clip, and the lumber and screws used were of insufficient strength. In McCloud v. Leavitt Corp., D.C., E.D., Illinois, 1948, 79 F.Supp. 286, a spectator was injured when the defective grandstand in which he was watching a game collapsed under him. In Carpini v. Pittsburgh & Weirton Bus Co., 3 Cir., 1954, 216 F.2d 404, a petcock used to drain the air chamber of the brake system of a bus was located too close to the ground. It broke off on debris in the street. The brakes failed. The driver lost control of the bus. In Ford Motor Co. v. Zahn, 8 Cir., 1959, 265 F.2d 729, the ashtray on the dashboard had a defectively jagged edge which inflicted injuries on a passenger when the automobile brakes were suddenly applied. In Goullon v. Ford Motor Co., 6 Cir., 1930, 44 F.2d 310, the rim of the steering wheel on a tractor broke in the driver's hand.

The products involved in all these cases were unfit for their intended use and in precisely that respect were the cause of accidental injuries.

The intended purpose of an automobile does not include its participation in collisions with other objects, despite the manufacturer's ability to foresee the possibility that such collisions may occur. As defendant argues, the defendant also knows that its automobiles may be driven into bodies of water, but it is not suggested that defendant has a duty to equip them with pontoons.

We cannot agree with the plaintiff that the defendant had a duty to equip all its automobiles with side rail perimeter frames, or that such a duty can be inferred from the mere fact that some of the defendant's, or some of its competitors', automobiles are now made with side rails, or from the opinions of certain experts that perimeter frames are "safer" in a collision. Defendant had a duty to test its frame only to ensure that it was reasonably fit for its intended purpose.

Unlike the defendants in Bird v. Ford Motor Co., D.C., W.D., N.Y., 1936, 15 F. Supp. 590; Baxter v. Ford Motor Co., 1932, 168 Wash. 456, 12 P.2d 409, 88 A.L.R. 521; Bahlman v. Hudson Motor Car Co., 1939, 290 Mich. 683, 288 N.W. 309, cited by the plaintiff, General Motors Corporation did not warrant its product to be free of the condition which actually caused the accident. In Bird and Baxter, the windshields which shattered and cut the plaintiffs in those cases, were expressly represented to be "shatter-proof." In Bahlman, the two-piece roof welded with a jagged seam that injured the plaintiff, was expressly represented to be a "seamless steel roof."

It is not alleged that General Motors expressly warranted its automobile to have side rails or to be capable of protecting a driver in broadside collisions; nor can such warranty be implied from the allegations in plaintiff's amended complaint.

Our study of all other points and authorities advanced in favor of plaintiff's position discloses nothing that alters our conclusion that the judgment of the District Court must be affirmed.


KILEY, Circuit Judge (dissenting).

I respectfully dissent.

The opinion of the court decides that General Motors' duty was, as it concedes, to design its automobile to be reasonably fit for the purpose for which it is made, and free from hidden defects; that notwithstanding General Motors' foreseeability of possible broadside collisions, the "intended purpose" of the automobile does not include its participation in such collisions; that imposition of any requirements that automobiles be made "more" safe for collisions is a legislative function; and that the district court properly dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

The question before us is whether, assuming the truth of the well-pleaded allegations in the amended complaint, "it appears beyond all doubt" that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts which would entitle her to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (195...

To continue reading

Request your trial
143 cases
  • Maynard v. Snapchat, Inc.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • March 15, 2022
    ...Snap also cites for support Schemel v. General Motors Corp. , 384 F.2d 802 (7th Cir. 1967), which relied on Evans v. General Motors Corp. , 359 F.2d 822, 824 (7th Cir. 1966), to hold that an automobile manufacturer sued for negligently designing an automobile capable of speeding was "not bo......
  • Huddell v. Levin
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • June 23, 1976
    ...1066 (4th Cir. 1974) (Virginia); Larsen v. General Motors Corp., 391 F.2d 495 (8th Cir. 1968) (Michigan); Evans v. General Motors Corp., 359 F.2d 822 (7th Cir. 1966) (Indiana); Hardy v. Volkswagen of America, 65 F.R.D. 359 (W.D.Pa.1975) (Pennsylvania); Yetter v. Rajeski, 364 F.Supp. 105 (D.......
  • Hyundai Motor Co. v. Alvarado
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • September 24, 1998
    ...General Motors Corp., 865 F.2d 395, 403-406 (1st Cir.1988), cert. denied, 494 U.S. 1065, 110 S.Ct. 1781, 108 L.Ed.2d 782 (1990).114 359 F.2d 822 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 385 U.S. 836, 87 S.Ct. 83, 17 L.Ed.2d 70 (1966). (Eleven years later, the Seventh Circuit overruled this case. Huff v. W......
  • Taylor v. General Motors Corp., 87-5829
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • June 14, 1989
    ...view was that automobile manufacturers had no duty to make their product safer to passengers in a collision. See Evans v. General Motors Corp., 359 F.2d 822, 825 (7th Cir.) (holding that an automobile manufacturer has a duty to design its product to be reasonably fit for the purpose for whi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • The Florida Supreme Court needs a second look at second collision motor vehicle cases.
    • United States
    • Florida Bar Journal Vol. 78 No. 4, April 2004
    • April 1, 2004
    ...motor vehicles, see PROSSER, WADE & SCHWARTZ, TORTS, CASES AND MATERIALS 696-722 (8th Ed. 1988). (5) Evans v. General Motors Corp., 359 F.2d 822 (7th Cir.), cert. den., 385 U.S. 836 (6) The National Highway Traffic Safety Act was passed in 1966. 15 U.S.C.A. [section] 1381-1431. The Nati......

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