H. P. Hood & Sons, Inc. v. Ford Motor Co.

Decision Date06 April 1976
Citation345 N.E.2d 683,370 Mass. 69
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
PartiesH. P. HOOD & SONS, INC., et al. 1 v. FORD MOTOR COMPANY, and a Third-party action. 2

John L. Lyman, Boston (Carl G. Bergstedt, Boston, with him), for Ford Motor Co.

Philander S. Ratzkoff, Boston (Richard L. Neumeier, Boston, with him), for William Terranova.

S. George Bromberg, Boston, for H. P. Hood & Sons, Inc.


QUIRICO, Justice.

This is an action in tort and contract, brought originally by H. P. Hood & Sons, Inc. (Hood), and its employee, William Terranova, against Ford Motor Company (Ford), and Toby Ford Sales, Inc. (Toby), to recover for injuries to person and property sustained by the plaintiffs when Terranova was involved in a motor vehicle collision in the course of his employment with Hood. At the time of the collision, he was operating a truck which had been manufactured by Ford and sold by its dealer Toby to Hood.

In the plaintiffs' declaration, Terranova alleged basically that he sustained serious personal injuries as the result of a defective condition of the truck which was caused by the negligence of the defendants and which was discoverable by a reasonable inspection. Hood also alleged the defendants' negligence and further alleged in essence that the defendants committed breaches of the warranties of merchantability and fitness of the truck for a particular purpose. Hood claimed that by reason of such negligence and breaches of warranties it sustained serious damage to the truck, its contents, and refrigerating equipment installed in it.

Ford commenced a third party action against Hood originally in tort for negligence, but later amended to an action in contract, for indemnification for any and all damages recoverable by Terranova against it. 3 Prior to trial, Hood waived its warranty counts against Ford, leaving only the negligence counts of Hood and Terranova against Ford in the original action and Ford's count against Hood for indemnification in the third party action at issue for trial.

The case was tried to a jury in the Superior Court and at the close of the evidence, Ford moved for directed verdicts in its favor in the original action. The motion was denied by the judge. The jury returned a verdict for Terranova in the sum of $21,500 on his count against Ford, but returned a verdict for Ford on Hood's count in the original action. In Ford's third party action, Hood's motion for a directed verdict in its favor was allowed. The case is before us on Ford's exceptions (a) to the denial of its motion for a directed verdict on Terranova's count in the original action and (b) to the allowance of Hood's motion for a directed verdict in the third party action brought against Hood by Ford. There was no error.

1. Denial of directed verdict in Terranova's negligence action. In considering the propriety of a judge's ruling on a motion for directed verdict, we consider the evidence most favorable to the plaintiff or plaintiffs, disregarding evidence which tends to prove the contrary. Fialkow v. DeVoe Motors, Inc., 359 Mass. 569, 573, 270 N.E.2d 798 (1971). Kelly v. Railway Express Agency, Inc., 315 Mass. 301, 302, 52 N.E.2d 411 (1943). 'If upon any reasonable view of the evidence there is found any combination of circumstances from which a rational inference may be drawn in favor of the plaintiff, then there was no error in the denial of the motion, even if there may be other and different circumstances disclosed in the evidence which, if accepted as true by the jury, would support a conclusion adverse to the plaintiff.' Stewart v. Roy Bros., Inc., 358 Mass. 446, 448, 265 N.E.2d 357, 359 (1970), quoting from Howes v. Kelman, 326 Mass. 696, 696--697, 96 N.E.2d 394 (1951). Applying this test to the present case, we conclude that there was sufficient evidence to warrant the jury in finding for Terranova on the issue of Ford's negligence and that, therefore, the judge did not err in denying Ford's motion for a directed verdict on his count.

We summarize the evidence most favorable to Terranova on this issue. Terranova was employed by Hood as a truck driver. The truck which was assigned to him and which he regularly drove was one of a number of such vehicles manufactured by Ford and purchased by Hood from Toby, a Ford dealer. On June 7, 1968, Terranova was operating the truck in the course of his employment. As he drove the truck up a hill at a speed of about twenty-five to thirty miles an hour, 'all of a sudden something violent happened in the truck. The steering wheel was torn from (his) hands, and then (he) had a tremendous sensation of going to the right, just violently going to the right . . ..' Terranova was buffeted about the cab of the truck, temporarily losing consciousness, and the truck turned over onto its side and came to a stop.

An expert witness called by the plaintiffs testified that in his opinion the accident was caused by a right front spring hanger bracket on the truck which was improperly fastened and which separated from the frame rail. The witness testified further that this condition 'allowed the right front wheel to be displaced rearward, where it contacted the inside of the right front wheel well, . . . (that t)his motion of the right front wheel rearward forced the vehicle into a sharp right turn, (that t)he vehicle subsequently rode over its own wheel and axle assembly at the rear of the right front wheel, (and that t) his forced the right front of the vehicle up into the air and caused this truck to roll over with its left side down.' He testified in addition that the defective condition of the rivets which caused the improper fastening of the front spring hanger bracket was 'strictly a manufacturing defect.'

An expert witness called by Ford testified that such defective rivets should have been discoverable by an inspector at Ford and that the inspection process at Ford failed to the extent that Ford vehicles were distributed with malformed rivets. It further appeared from the evidence that as of the date of the accident the truck had been driven no more than 1,637 miles and that prior to the accident Terranova had never experienced any mechanical difficulty with the truck nor noticed anything unusual about it.

The evidence summarized above was sufficient to warrant a finding that Ford had been negligent in manufacturing the defective truck and in failing to discover such defect by reasonable inspection. LeBlanc v. Ford Motor Co., 346 Mass. 225, 229--230, 191 N.E.2d 301 (1963); Carter v. Yardley & Co., 319 Mass. 92, 96, 64 N.E.2d 693 (1946). The jury so found. Indeed, Ford appears not to dispute this finding, arguing instead that it should be held as matter of law to have proven a valid defense to the action on a showing of good faith compliance with relevant provisions of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, 15 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. (1970), and a demonstration that it has made reasonable provisions for free repairs of defects covered by a vehicle recall program instituted by it. We disagree.

At all times relevant to this case, 15 U.S.C. § 1402 (Supp. II 1965), provided in pertinent part as follows: '(a) . . . Every manufacturer of motor vehicles or tires shall furnish notification of any defect in any motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment produced by such manufacturer which he (the manufacturer) determines, in good faith, relates to motor vehicle safety, to the purchaser (where known to the manufacturer) of such motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment, within a reasonable time after such manufacturer has discovered such defect.

'(c) . . . The notification required by subsection (a) of this section shall contain a clear description of such defect, an evaluation of the risk to traffic safety reasonably related to such defect, and a statement of the measures to be taken to repair such defect.' It is clear that Ford did furnish Hood with notification of the possibility that the Ford trucks purchased by Hood contained a defect relating to motor vehicle safety. Such notification was accomplished by means of a letter, pertinent portions of which are reproduced in the margin, 4 and a series of conferences between representatives of Ford and Hood. Terranova raises a question, which we need not decide, as to the sufficiency under the statute of the notification provided by Ford. Even assuming that Ford's notification was in full compliance with the Federal standards, such compliance in and of itself does not establish a defense to this action at common law. As provided in 15 U.S.C. § 1397(c) (Supp. II 1965): 'Compliance with any Federal motor vehicle safety standard issued under this subchapter does not exempt any person from any liability under common law.' See Larsen v. General Motors Corp., 391 F.2d 495, 506 (8th Cir. 1968), wherein it was stated: 'It is apparent that the National Traffic (and Motor Vehicle) Safety Act (of 1966) is intended to be supplementary of and in addition to the common law of negligence and product liability.'

Under the law of this Commonwealth, a manufacturer of a product, which the manufacturer knows or should know is dangerous by nature or is in a dangerous condition, owes a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent injury to those persons who it is foreseeable will come in contact with, and consequently be endangered by, that product. Carter v. Yardley & Co., 319 Mass. 92, 96, 64 N.E.2d 693 (1946). Moreover, '(t)he duty to exercise reasonable care includes a duty to warn of danger, if 'the person on whom that duty rests has some reason to suppose a warning is needed.' Carney v. Bereault, 348 Mass. 502, 506, 204 N.E.2d 448, 451 (1965).' Haley v. Allied Chem....

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