Heaton v. Ford Motor Co.

CourtSupreme Court of Oregon
Writing for the CourtBefore PERRY; GOODWIN; O'CONNELL; SLOAN
Citation248 Or. 467,85 Or.Adv.Sh. 823,435 P.2d 806
Decision Date29 December 1967
PartiesMichael R. HEATON, Appellant, v. FORD MOTOR COMPANY, a corporation, Catlin Wolfard, Jean Wolfard, James C. Wolfard and Robert C. Wolfard, dba Oregon City Motor Co., Respondents.

Page 806

435 P.2d 806
248 Or. 467
Michael R. HEATON, Appellant,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, a corporation, Catlin Wolfard, Jean
Wolfard, James C. Wolfard and Robert C. Wolfard,
dba Oregon City Motor Co., Respondents.
Supreme Court of Oregon, In Banc.
Argued and Submitted June 6, 1967.
Decided Dec. 29, 1967.

[248 Or. 469]

Page 807

John R. Faust, Jr., Portland, argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs were Cake, Jaureguy, Hardy, Buttler & McEwen, Portland.

Roland F. Banks, Jr., Portland, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Mautz, Souther, Spaulding, Kinsey & Williamson, Portland, and Hibbard, Jacobs, Caldwell & Kincart, Oregon City.

Before PERRY, C.J., and SLOAN, O'CONNELL, GOODWIN, DENECKE, HOLMAN and LUSK, JJ.

GOODWIN, Justice.

The plaintiff appeals a judgment entered after an involuntary nonsuit in a products-liability case involving a wheel on a Ford 4-wheel-drive pickup truck. The principal question is whether the plaintiff produced sufficient evidence to support his allegation that the wheel was dangerously defective.

Plaintiff purchased the truck new in July 1963 to use for hunting and other cross-country purposes as well as for driving upon paved highways. He drove the truck some 7,000 miles without noticing anything unusual about its performance. Prior to the day of the accident the truck had rarely been off the pavement, and plaintiff swore that it had never been subjected to unusual stress of any kind.

On the day of the accident, however, the truck, while moving on a 'black-top' highway at normal speed, hit a rock which plaintiff described as about five or six inches in diameter. The truck continued uneventfully for about 35 miles, when it left the road and tipped over.

After the accident, the rim of the wheel was found to be separated from the 'spider.' Witnesses described the 'spider' as the interior portion of the [248 Or. 470] wheel which is attached to the vehicle by the lug nuts. The twelve rivets connecting the rim to the spider appeared to have been sheared off. The spider, according to one witness, showed signs of having been dragged along the ground. There was also a large dent in the rim and a five-inch cut in the inner tube at a spot within the tire that was adjacent to the dent in the rim. Only three of the rivets which had held the rim on the spider were found after the accident.

The motion for a nonsuit challenges the sufficiency of the plaintiff's proof. The plaintiff's version of the evidence is that the wheel came apart and caused an accident after encountering a five-or-six-inch rock on a hard-surfaced road at highway speed. (There is other evidence in the case, but on the point in issue it does not help the plaintiff.)

In Wights v. Staff Jennings, 241 Or. 301, 405 P.2d 624 (1965), we held that a nonprivity user of a dangerously defective product could recover for injuries caused by the defect. Liability was specifically rationalized as strict liability in tort, although the breach of the seller's duty was a breach of warranty. There, because the product was one which, if defective, was in fact ultrahazardous (involving a high degree of danger of explosion), we did not have to decide whether a lesser degree of danger, i.e., 'unreasonably dangerous' as defined in Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A

Page 808

(1965), would support liability. In the case at bar, we now adopt Section 402A and hold that if the product is in fact unreasonably dangerous the manufacturer is liable for the harms caused by such a defect. It is not necessary to prove that the product is 'ultrahazardous,' nor that it was placed on the market 'negligently.' It is necessary, however, to prove that it is dangerously defective.

[248 Or. 471] An article is dangerously defective when it is in a condition unreasonably dangerous to the user. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A. Unreasonable, in this context, means dangerous to an extent beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary purchaser. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A, comment g. Such a definition is conceptually related to the traditional warranty of merchantable quality in the law of sales. 1

In some cases the plaintiff can produce direct evidence of a mistake in fabrication or of a design which is unreasonably dangerous. 2 The user has the right to expect a reasonably safe design and reasonable quality controls in fabrication according to that design. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A; § 395, Comment f.

In the type of case in which there is no evidence, direct or circumstantial, available to prove exactly what sort of manufacturing flaw existed, or exactly how the design was deficient, 3 the plaintiff may [248 Or. 472] nonetheless be able to establish his right to recover, by proving that the product did not perform in keeping with the reasonable expectations of the user. 4 When it is shown that a product failed to meet the reasonable expectations of the user the inference is that there was some sort of defect, a precise definition of which is unnecessary. If the product failed under conditions 5 concerning which an average consumer of that product could have fairly definite expectations, then the jury would have a basis for making an informed judgment upon the existence of a defect. The case at bar, however, is not such a case.

In this case plaintiff failed to introduce evidence of flawed manufacture or dangerous design. His own expert witness expressed an opinion that the wheel was not defective. He now urges that this court should declare the wheel unreasonably dangerous as a matter of law for the reason that it failed to perform as an ordinary consumer would have expected it to perform. While the Restatement indicates that such a failure would permit a finding that a product is generally defective, it is for the jury rather than the court to say in the ordinary case whether a given product failed to meet the standard. See Gherna v. Ford Motor Co., 246 Cal.App.2d 639, 55 Cal.Rptr. 94

Page 809

(1966); Hooper v. General Motors Corp., 123 Utah 515, 260 P.2d 549 (1953) (by implication).

The court's function is to decide whether the [248 Or. 473] evidence furnishes a sufficient basis for the jury to make an informed decision. If the record permits, the jury determines whether the product performed as an ordinary consumer would have expected. In the case at bar the record furnishes no basis for a jury to do anything but speculate.

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92 practice notes
  • Gladhart v. Oregon Vineyard Supply Co., No. CV97346; CA A100805
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Oregon
    • December 22, 1999
    ...in a footnote that: "Section 402A of the Restatement of Torts 2d, the source most cited in Oregon cases since Heaton v. Ford Motor Co., [248 Or. 467, 435 P.2d 806 (1967),] would extend strict liability for product defects unreasonably dangerous to property as well as to persons. See Brown *......
  • Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., J-80-2013
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 19, 2014
    ...danger are unpredictable. This difficulty is characteristic of products of relatively complex design. See, e.g., Heaton v. Ford Motor Co., 435 P.2d 806 (Or. 1967). The Heaton Court explained: [A product] should be strong enough to perform as the ordinary consumer expects. . . . The jury is ......
  • Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., No. 17 MAP 2013
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 19, 2014
    ...danger are unpredictable. This difficulty is characteristic of products of relatively complex design. See, e.g., Heaton v. Ford Motor Co., 248 Or. 467, 435 P.2d 806 (1967). The Heaton Court explained:[A product] should be strong enough to perform as the ordinary consumer expects.... The jur......
  • Sherk v. Daisy-Heddon, a Div. of Victor Comptometer Corp., DAISY-HEDDO
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • October 8, 1982
    ...305, 475 P.2d 964 (1970); Estate of Ryder v. Kelly-Springfield Tire Co., 91 Wash.2d 111, 587 P.2d 160 (1978); Heaton v. Ford Motor Co., 248 Or. 467, 435 P.2d 806 B. The "Wade-Keeton" Factors Analysis Under this approach, a set of criteria is given the jury upon which to evaluate the risks o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
92 cases
  • Gladhart v. Oregon Vineyard Supply Co., No. CV97346; CA A100805
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Oregon
    • December 22, 1999
    ...in a footnote that: "Section 402A of the Restatement of Torts 2d, the source most cited in Oregon cases since Heaton v. Ford Motor Co., [248 Or. 467, 435 P.2d 806 (1967),] would extend strict liability for product defects unreasonably dangerous to property as well as to persons. See Brown *......
  • Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., J-80-2013
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 19, 2014
    ...danger are unpredictable. This difficulty is characteristic of products of relatively complex design. See, e.g., Heaton v. Ford Motor Co., 435 P.2d 806 (Or. 1967). The Heaton Court explained: [A product] should be strong enough to perform as the ordinary consumer expects. . . . The jury is ......
  • Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., No. 17 MAP 2013
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 19, 2014
    ...danger are unpredictable. This difficulty is characteristic of products of relatively complex design. See, e.g., Heaton v. Ford Motor Co., 248 Or. 467, 435 P.2d 806 (1967). The Heaton Court explained:[A product] should be strong enough to perform as the ordinary consumer expects.... The jur......
  • Sherk v. Daisy-Heddon, a Div. of Victor Comptometer Corp., DAISY-HEDDO
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • October 8, 1982
    ...305, 475 P.2d 964 (1970); Estate of Ryder v. Kelly-Springfield Tire Co., 91 Wash.2d 111, 587 P.2d 160 (1978); Heaton v. Ford Motor Co., 248 Or. 467, 435 P.2d 806 B. The "Wade-Keeton" Factors Analysis Under this approach, a set of criteria is given the jury upon which to evaluate the risks o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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