The opinion of the court was delivered by: HUYETT
This is an action for damages against Chrysler Corporation arising out of the death of a father and injuries to two of his minor children from an accident which involved a Plymouth GTX manufactured by defendant, Chrysler Corporation. The plaintiffs are Linda and Cynthia Neider, the minor children, and Geraldine Neider, the mother individually and as parent and guardian of the minor children as well as Administratrix of the Estate of John Neider, her deceased husband. Chrysler Corporation as a third-party plaintiff has joined as a third-party defendant James R. Lane allegedly the driver of the Plymouth GTX.
Plaintiffs allege generally that on April 7, 1968 at about 6:28 P.M. on U.S. 1 about two and a half miles east of Oxford, Pennsylvania, while John Neider was driving three of his children and a neighbor's child home from a picnic, an accident occurred. A 1968 Plymouth GTX, manufactured by defendant Chrysler Corporation, traveling in excess of 120 mph went out of control, crossed onto the wrong side of the road, and struck the Neider vehicle head on. As a result of the accident, John Neider, one of the Neider children, and the neighbor's child were killed. The deceased Neider child and the neighbor's child are not plaintiffs in this suit.
Paul Hagy, Clarence Holbrook, and James Lane, the owner of the GTX, were all in the GTX at the time of the accident; all three received injuries of varying degrees. None seek compensation against Chrysler in this action.
The Neiders base their claim on theories of negligence and products liability. The plaintiffs contend that the auto was unreasonably dangerous because it was uncontrollable on public roads at speeds it was capable of achieving. Plaintiffs also claim as defects in the auto that Chrysler failed to provide adequate features for high-speed stability because it put a high-powered engine in an automobile not designed to be safe with such an engine; that the auto body did not have necessary high-speed aerodynamic design, an adequate suspension system, or an adequate steering mechanism, and that Chrysler failed to incorporate into the design of the car certain aerodynamic devices, spoilers and wings, which improve the aerodynamic characteristics of the car, increase traction, and give greater stability.
The failure to provide the safety features, the plaintiffs contended, created two problems. First, a driver not experienced at high-speed driving would tend to oversteer the car and lose control because at high speeds the car "lifted", that is, the effective weight on the tires was reduced. The second manner in which a car might go out of control as a result of design problems is that when the car has "lifted" or is "light", the front or rear wheels may begin to spin and therefore lose all traction on the road surface. In other words, the torque force on the wheels may exceed the frictional forces between the tires and road surface.
Plaintiffs further contend that Chrysler was required to foresee that a GTX would be driven at high speeds grossly in excess of the speed limit on public roads. The plaintiffs urge that the advertisements of Chrysler support this conclusion. Generally, the ads claim that the GTX is a "hot" car and emphasized its speed and acceleration capabilities.
The defendant was claimed to have been negligent in that it failed to adequately test the car at speeds in excess of one hundred miles per hour and thereby failed to discover these problems and the need for remedying them. Further, it was negligent to sell a car such as the GTX without incorporating the safety features which were generally known in the automobile industry at the time of the manufacture of the car.
Chrysler generally denied all of plaintiffs' contentions except that they were in the business of manufacturing and selling cars and further claimed that the owner of the car made a substantial change in its condition by installing a special type of tire. They further claimed that even if all that the plaintiffs claimed were proven true, the conduct of the driver was the distinct, unrelated and efficient cause of the accident.
Chrysler, as third-party plaintiff, joined James R. Lane, the owner of the GTX, as a third-party defendant claiming that he was grossly negligent and that he had been drinking alcoholic beverages and was unfit to drive. James R. Lane claimed that he was not drunk and not even driving the GTX at the time of the accident.
These issues were submitted to a jury in a bifurcated trial from March 28, 1973 through April 9, 1973. The jury returned its verdict in the form of answers to special interrogatories upon which the Court entered a verdict in favor of defendant and against ...