Ford Motor Co. v. Thomas

Decision Date08 January 1970
Docket Number6 Div. 685
Citation231 So.2d 88,285 Ala. 214
PartiesFORD MOTOR COMPANY, a Corporation v. Herman Lee THOMAS.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Lange, Simpson, Robinson & Somerville and White E. Gibson, Jr., Birmingham, for appellant.

George S. Brown, Birmingham, for appellee.


This is an appeal by Ford Motor Company from a judgment of the circuit court of Jefferson County rendered on a jury verdict in favor of plaintiff-appellee, Herman Lee Thomas, for $45,000, and also from a judgment overruling a motion for a new trial.

Plaintiff Thomas originally filed suit against one Eddie O. Gatson, and various fictitious defendants described generally to include those who placed in plaintiff's possession a wheel and tire assembly which exploded when the plaintiff slid the wheel and tire out of the rear of a service truck preparatory to installing it on Gatson's truck, after the tire had been repaired. Plaintiff was struck on both knees by a rim from the wheel, suffering injuries which included a fracture of the right knee cap.

The original complaint consisted of three counts. They alleged, in substance, that defendants requested plaintiff to repair a flat tire on the Gatson truck, that the rim and component parts were in a defective and dangerous condition, which defendants knew or should have known, while plaintiff did not, and defendants negligently failed to warn plaintiff, and that the tire and wheel exploded as a proximate result of the negligence of the defendants.

On the last day before the running of the statute of limitations of one year (after the occurrence), plaintiff filed an amendment adding fictitious defendants Q, R and S, described as 'persons, firms or corporations, that manufactured the lockrim and wheel assembly that injured the plaintiff * * *.' Plaintiff also added count A, charging the same negligent failure to warn plaintiff by the original defendants and charging the fictitious defendants with 'negligently manufacturing said tire and wheel assembly, so that same was so defective as to be inherently and imminently dangerous * * *.' At a later time, plaintiff filed another amendment substituting Ford Motor Company for defendant 'Q', and adding count B, essentially the same as previous counts, but additionally charging that the combining and concurring negligence of Ford and the other defendants proximately caused plaintiff's injuries. Still later, plaintiff filed counts C, D, E and F.

The salient allegations of counts D, E, and F, with respect to defendant Ford Motor Company, are as follows:

Count D. '* * * which said defective wheel with a defective locking rim had theretofore been negligently manufactured by the defendant, Ford Motor Company, a corporation, so that the same was imminently or inherently dangerous when put to the use for which it was intended. * * *'

Count E. '* * * which said wheel with a defective locking rim had theretofore been negligently placed on said vehicle by the defendant, Ford Motor Company, so that said defective wheel with said defective locking rim was imminently or inherently dangerous when put to the use for which it was intended. * * *'

Count F. '* * * which said defectively designed locking rim had therefore been negligently placed on said vehicle by the defendant, Ford Motor Company, so that said defectively designed wheel with said defectively designed locking rim was imminently or inherently dangerous when put to the use for which it was intended. * * *'

The cause went to trial against defendants Gatson and Ford Motor Company on counts D, E and F, only. At the conclusion of the plaintiff's case, the court gave the general affirmative charge without hypothesis for the defendant Gatson. Defendant Ford offered no testimony. The jury then returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff and against Ford Motor Company in the sum of $45,000, for which judgment was rendered. After a motion for new trial was filed, argued and submitted, it was overruled by the court January 14, 1969, and this appeal ensued.

The facts are that Carl Harvella operated a Texaco Service Station in Jefferson County at which plaintiff was employed. On the date plaintiff was injured and in response to a call, Harvella sent plaintiff to pick up a tire for repair from a truck owned by Eddie Gatson. At the service station, plaintiff began disassembling the tire and had taken off the lock ring when Harvella assigned him to other work, took over himself and completed the repair of the tire and remounting it. Harvella described how, after the tire and lock ring were on the wheel, a small amount of air was put in the tire, after which the ring was centered and the rest of the air was put in. He inflated the tire to 40 pounds, then put the assembled and inflated tire in his truck and sent plaintiff to put it on the vehicle. The wheel and ring were fourteen years old, being mounted on a 1950 Ford Van truck.

The wheel is so constructed that it has a detachable rim with a lock ring. The lock ring has a slot to permit insertion of a tool to pry it on and off. The rim or flange is not uniform all around, but has a cut out part apparently designed to enable the lock ring to be started on it and under which flange the lock ring fits.

Plaintiff, a 64 year old man and an automobile mechanic and service station attendant for almost 50 years, removed the wheel from the truck at the location of Gatson's vehicle. He slid the wheel and inflated tire out of the rear of his truck by hooking his hand in the center of the wheel. When it touched the ground it blew apart and the rim hit him in the knees and threw him ten feet, after which the rim went sailing across the street. It sounded like dynamite going off. The explosion blew the tube all to pieces and left the tire and wheel lying on the ground. He was helped up on the rear of the truck by two city firemen who were nearby, and later went to the hospital. He was found to have abrasions of both knees, hematoma of the right knee, a vertical fracture of the right kneecap, comminuted without displacement. His permanent partial disability was estimated to be 15% Of the right lower extremity.

The testimony with respect to the defective locking rim may be briefly summarized as follows:

Witness Harvella (the service station operator who was plaintiff's employer) testified that what 'permits' these wheels to separate from the ring is 'that metal ring probably tends to stretch a little * * * it don't go back into position like it should' and as the last person to handle it before the accident, he says it 'was not then in an unsafe condition' as far as he was able to observe.

Plaintiff (with 50 years experience as an auto mechanic service man) testified he 'didn't see anything' that he considered to be a defect in the wheel before the accident, but that 'it is a dangerous thing to start with * * * even when it is centered,' that the wheel had distortions on it, but that he wouldn't say a ring or rim with such distortions on it would be more dangerous, 'that wheel is always to me been one of the most dangerous wheels that was ever made.'

Witness Fain (with 14 years experience in the wholesale wheel rim business) testified that the wheel 'that goes on a 1950 Ford van' and that 'was used by the Ford Motor Company on its 1950 Ford...

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7 cases
  • Old Southern Life Ins. Co. v. Woodall
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • January 22, 1976
    ...motion for directed verdict on the first and third claims. For this error the case must be reversed and remanded. Ford Motor Company v. Thomas, 285 Ala. 214. 231 So.2d 88 (1970); Jordan v. Henderson, 258 Ala. 419, 63 So.2d 379 We see no reason to discuss other assignments of error argued, s......
  • Atkins v. American Motors Corp.
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • May 21, 1976
    ...treated the defective condition of the product as the basis of a cause of action although negligence was charged. Ford Motor Co. v. Thomas, 285 Ala. 214, 231 So.2d 88 (1970); Norton v. Harrelson, 278 Ala. 85, 176 So.2d 18 (1965); Sears Roebuck & Co. v. Morris, 273 Ala. 218, 136 So.2d 883 (1......
  • Casrell v. Altec Industries, Inc.
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • May 21, 1976
    ...This court has already applied tort terminology to an action based on the defective condition of the product. Cf. Ford Motor Co. v. Thomas, 285 Ala. 214, 231 So.2d 88 (1970); Norton Company v. Harrelson, 278 Ala. 85, 176 So.2d 18 (1965); Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Morris, 273 Ala. 218, 136 So.......
  • Pouncey v. Ford Motor Company, 71-2915.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit
    • August 29, 1972
    ...for a defective product is predicated upon negligence in the manufacture or design of the product. See e. g. Ford Motor Company v. Thomas, 285 Ala. 214, 231 So.2d 88. However, the Alabama courts have freely permitted juries to infer manufacturer negligence from circumstantial evidence where......
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