Norton Co. v. Harrelson, 6 Div. 150

Decision Date27 May 1965
Docket Number6 Div. 150
Citation278 Ala. 85,176 So.2d 18
PartiesNORTON COMPANY v. Jack H. HARRELSON.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Sadler, Sadler, Sullivan & Sharp, Birmingham, for appellant.

Robt. S. Vance and Hogan, Callaway & Vance, Birmingham, for appellee.

SIMPSON, Justice.

In this case the evidence is that appellant Norton manufactured and placed upon the market a grinding wheel which was purchased by the plaintiff Harrelson's employer. The wheel was designed to be affixed to a grinding machine and used to grind down metal welds. Plaintiff's employer purchased approximately 100 of these wheels each year and the one in question had been placed on the machine earlier during the morning of the accident. It was used for a few minutes by the plaintiff's co-worker before the plaintiff began to use it in the manner shown to be usual and customary and for the purpose intended by Norton. The speed at which the machine was being operated was not as great as the maximum recommended by Norton when grinding with its wheel.

While using the machine the wheel disintegrated, throwing some particles against the roof and wall of the building where plaintiff was working, with one piece cutting his thigh and tearing into his penis. The medical evidence is that this wound to the penis resulted in permanent scar tissue which cannot be removed by further surgery and causing plaintiff pain and discomfort.

There is evidence that the plaintiff is experienced at using grinding machines and the type of wheel in question, as was his co-worker who affixed the wheel to the machine. Following the accident the machine was tested and found to be in proper working condition and not turning at a higher speed than recommended as safe when using these wheels.

The appellant's primary and principal argument is directed to the refusal of the trial court to grant its request for the general affirmative charge with hypothesis and its motion for a new trial. The basis for these arguments is the failure of the plaintiff's evidence to prove that it was negligent in its manufacture by proof of a specific defect in the grinding wheel in question.

The pieces of the wheel were discarded by the plaintiff's employer following the accident and were not available as evidence upon the trial of the case. These pieces were not subjected to any scientific examination for a peculiar latent defect.

There is evidence that Norton had been manufacturing this particular type of wheel for a period of thirteen years and that it performed two quality control tests on each wheel, a visual inspection and a spinning of the wheel at a speed in excess of that recommended for its use. The plaintiff presented evidence through expert witnesses that examination of other Norton wheels of this particular type revealed variations in tensile strength and that under test two other such wheels disintegrated or showed failure when applied to the intended purpose in the customary and usual manner at speeds lower than the maximum recommended by Norton. These same expert witnesses testified as to other scientific tests which might be employed to determine the amount of stress to which such wheels might be subjected for the purpose of revealing any latent defect or propensity for failure and disintegration.

We are of the opinion that this evidence is sufficient to submit to the jury for decision the issue of whether the appellant was negligent in its manufacture of the particular wheel in question.

The evidence appears to be without contradiction that Norton manufactured the wheel, that there was no privity of contract with the plaintiff, that the wheel was being applied to its intended purpose and used in the usual and customary manner. Appellant does not deny that the wheel becomes an article inherently and imminently dangerous to human life and health if negligently manufactured.

The doctrine of manufacturer's liability has been considered by this court in the following cases: Jones v. Gulf States Steel Co., 205 Ala. 291, 88 So. 21 (1921); Sterchi Bros. Stores v. Castleberry, 236 Ala. 349, 182 So. 474 (1938); Altorfer Bros. Co. v. Green, 236 Ala. 427, 183 So. 415 (1938); Miles v. Chrysler Corporation, 238 Ala. 359, 191 So. 245 (1939); Jefferson Standard Life Ins. Co. v. Watson, 242 Ala. 181, 5 So.2d 639 (1942); Crane Co. v. Davis, 242 Ala. 570, 8 So.2d 196 (1942); DeFore v. Bourjois, Inc., 268 Ala. 228, 105 So.2d 846 (1958); Greyhound Corporation v. Brown, 269 Ala. 520, 113 So.2d 916 (1959); and lastly Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Morris, 273 Ala. 218, 136 So.2d 883 (1962).

This doctrine is applicable in a limited number of situations. The defendant must be either the manufacturer or seller of the injury-producing article. There is no privity of contract between the defendant and the injured plaintiff. At the time complained of the article must have been applied to the use for which it was manufactured and sold and that use must be in the usual and customary manner. Where these circumstances exist the manufacturer or seller will be liable for an injury proximately resulting from the use of the article but only where the article is inherently or imminently dangerous to human life or health, or becomes so when put to its intended use in the proper manner. This liability arises from either the negligent manufacture of the article or negligence in selling it.

There is a distinction between the negligent manufacture of an article, i. e., failure to observe reasonable care in the selection and assembly of component parts, and negligence in failing to observe reasonable care in the design of an article of manufacture. An article may be properly designed and negligently constructed either through use of defective materials or lack of reasonable care in the manner of its assembly. Likewise, there may be an exercise of reasonable care in the selection of materials and the use of reasonable skill in assembly of an article, but the article may be negligently manufactured and sold...

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18 cases
  • Medley v. United States
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Alabama
    • June 1, 1979
    ...A manufacturer may be liable not only for the negligent construction of an item but also for its negligent design. Norton Co. v. Harrelson, 278 Ala. 85, 176 So.2d 18 (1965). Needless to say, the United States was not the manufacturer of the M-817 and its predecessors. It appears that these ......
  • Ward v. Forrester Day Care, Inc.
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • March 24, 1989
    ...718, 195 So.2d 829 (1967) (permanent wave solution); Thompson v. Lee, 439 So.2d 113 (Ala.1983) (a cabinet door); Norton Co. v. Harrelson, 278 Ala. 85, 176 So.2d 18 (1965) (a grinding This Court has recognized, at least in dicta, that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur can apply in medical ma......
  • Remington Arms Company, Inc. v. Wilkins
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit
    • February 9, 1968
    ...that gunpowder naming others is an inherently dangerous article. The latest case to come to our attention is Norton Company v. Harrelson, 278 Ala. 85, 176 So.2d 18 (1965). After reaffirming the principles above discussed, the Alabama Supreme Court "Contrary to appellant\'s contention, the d......
  • Brownlee v. Louisville Varnish Co.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit
    • April 3, 1981
    ...use of product).5 See Altorfer Bros. Co. v. Green, 236 Ala. 427, 183 So. 415, 418 (Ala.1938) interpreted by Norton Co. v. Harrelson, 278 Ala. 85, 176 So.2d 18, 21 (Ala.1965) (defective design of safety release device).The evaluation of a design hazard necessarily involves a weighing of dang......
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