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DUCKWORTH v. FORD MOTOR CO.

September 28, 1962

Harry DUCKWORTH
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant and Third Party Plaintiff, v. JOHN B. WHITE,INC., Third Party Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LUONGO

This is a diversity suit by Harry Duckworth, a citizen and resident of pennsylvania, against Ford Motor Company, a Delaware corporation, seeking recovery for personal injuries and property damage caused by a defective steering assembly in a car manufactured by Ford. The action against Ford charged breach of warranty and negligence. Ford joined, as a third party defendant, John B. White, Inc., a Pennsylvania corporation, the authorized Ford dealer which sold the car to Duckworth, alleging that White was negligent and that its negligence caused or contributed to the happening of the accident.

At the conclusion of the trial the matter was submitted to the jury on special interrogatories, to which the jury responded as follows:

 '1. Do you find the defendant, Ford Motor Company, guilty of breach of implied warranty which was a proximate cause of the accident?

 'Answer Yes or No. Yes '2. Do you find the defendant, Ford Motor Company, guilty of negligence which was a proximate cause of the accident?

 'Answer Yes or No. Yes 'If your answer to both interrogatories 1 and 2 is 'NO', do not answer interrogatories 3, 4 and 5. 'If your answer to interrogatory 1, or to interrogatory 2, or both is 'YES', answer interrogatories 3, 4 and 5. '3. Do you find the third-party defendant, John B. White, Inc., guilty of negligence which was a proximate cause of the accident?

 'Answer Yes or No. Yes '4. Do you find the plaintiff, Harry Duckworth, guilty of negligence which caused or contributed to the accident?

 'Answer Yes or No. No '5. In what amount do you assess damages?

 '$ 50,000

 In light of the jury's answers to interrogatories, the following facts are accepted as having been established by the evidence:

 On February 18, 1957, Ford delivered to White the new car which White later sold to Duckworth. New cars are operational when delivered. The dealer is required only to perform new car 'make ready' service (e.g. motor tune-up, transmission adjustments, tightening connections of certain parts and accessories) and state inspection (to determine that the new cars conform to safety standards of the Bureau of Highway Safety of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania). The 'make ready' service and the state inspection were performed by White and, on February 28, 1957, the car purchased by Duckworth was delivered to him. For about three days it functioned properly, then it developed a 'stickiness' or 'lumpiness' in the steering. On occasion the steering stuck, requiring a pull or tug on the steering wheel to free it. A gradually increasing amount of free play developed in the steering wheel.

 On March 28, 1957, after the vehicle had been driven an estimated *fn1" 600-700 miles, it was returned to White for the 1,000 mile inspection. At that time Duckworth complained to White about 'stickiness' in the steering but no notation concerning that complaint was made on the service card, although other complaints were noted thereon. Duckworth did not again notice excess free play in the steering wheel until the day following the 1,000 mile inspection. On April 3, 1957, while driving the car on Route # 73 near Maple Shade, New Jersey, Duckworth attempted to steer it around a gradual turn in the road but, although he pulled the steering wheel with all his strength, he was unable to turn it, the car struck an eight to twelve inch curb, jumped over it and struck a utility pole. The car was demolished and Duckworth seriously injured.

 The steering failure resulted, according to plaintiff's expert, from the 'locking' of the steering assembly caused when the adjusting screw on the steering assembly backed out and became wedged against the steering assembly cover plate, preventing the proper operation of the steering assembly. If the mechanism had been properly assembled, the adjusting screw would have been locked in place by a properly secured jam nut, with ample clearance between the adjusting screw and the cover plate to permit free operation of the steering assembly. The jam nut was not properly secured, consequently the back and forth movement of the steering wheel as the car was driven gradually worked the adjusting screw outward toward the steering assembly cover plate. The outward movement of the adjusting screw was accelerated by the fact that the surface of the sector shaft on which needle bearings operated by direct contact, was of a hardness less than the minimum specified for safe operation by the needle bearing manufacturer. The deficiency in surface hardness caused indentations on the surface of ...


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