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WOODS v. PLEASANT HILLS MOTOR COMPANY (10/03/73)

decided: October 3, 1973.

WOODS, APPELLANT,
v.
PLEASANT HILLS MOTOR COMPANY



Appeals from order of Superior Court, April T., 1971, Nos. 204 and 207, affirming judgments of Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Allegheny County, Oct. T., 1966, No. 319, in case of Marie P. Woods, Administratrix of the estate of Clarence Woods, also known as Clarence D. Woods, on behalf of the estate of Clarence Woods, also known as Clarence D. Woods v. Pleasant Hills Motor Company and Ford Motor Company; same v. Charles Bluestone Company, Inc.

COUNSEL

Murray S. Love, with him Howard F. Messer, and Sikov and Love, for appellant.

Randall J. McConnell, Jr., with him Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, for appellee, Ford Motor Co.

George M. Weis, and Weis & Weis, for appellee, Pleasant Hills Motor Company.

Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Manderino. Mr. Chief Justice Jones took no part in the consideration or decision of this case. Mr. Justice Nix concurs in the result. Mr. Justice Eagen dissents. Mr. Justice Pomeroy dissents and would affirm the grant of a new trial on the basis of the opinion of Judge Montgomery speaking for a unanimous Superior Court.

Author: Manderino

[ 454 Pa. Page 227]

Charles D. Woods was killed on July 14, 1965, when a 1965 Ford truck which he was driving failed to negotiate a curve at the bottom of a hill, left the paved portion of the highway, collided with a pole, crossed over to the other side of the highway, ran into a hillside, and overturned.

The deceased was operating the truck in the regular course of his employment for the Charles Bluestone Company, Inc. The truck had been purchased on February 15, 1965, from Pleasant Hills Motor Company. Suit was filed by Marie P. Woods, as administratrix of the estate of the deceased, her husband, against the seller of the truck, Pleasant Hills Motor Company, and the manufacturer of the truck, Ford Motor Company. Subsequently, the two original defendants filed a complaint against the deceased's employer, Charles Bluestone Company, Inc.

The jury returned a verdict against both Pleasant Hills Motor Company and Ford Motor Company in the amount of $52,515, under the wrongful death act and $37,485, under the survival act. A compulsory non-suit had previously been granted as to Charles Bluestone Company, Inc., the additional defendant, from which no appeal has been taken. Post-trial motions by the defendants were denied. On appeal to the Superior Court, the judgments were reversed and a new trial awarded to both defendants. Woods v. Pleasant Hills Motor Co., 219 Pa. Superior Ct. 381, 281 A.2d 649 (1971). The petition of the appellant administratrix, Marie P. Woods, for allowance of appeal was granted.

[ 454 Pa. Page 228]

Suit in this case was brought on alternate theories of common law negligence and strict liability under section 402(a) of the Restatement of Torts, Restatement 2d, Torts, ยง 402(a) (1965). The appellant contended that an alleged defect in the braking mechanism of the truck caused the brakes to malfunction, resulting in the accident. Both theories were based on the failure of the Ford Motor Company to properly manufacture or assemble the braking mechanism and on the failure of Pleasant Hills Motor Company to inspect or properly inspect the fitting on the brake mechanism that was alleged to have been defective.

The alleged defect concerns the proper functioning of an air supply line which is a part of the truck's braking system. The appellant contended that the air supply line between the reservoir tank and the foot valve (brake pedal) had become disconnected due to insufficient tightening of a nut. Had the nut been properly tightened, it would have caused a ferrule (copper ring) to clamp in a pinching manner around the hollow copper end of the air supply line. This would have properly secured the line. The tightening of the nut and the clamping of the ferrule around the copper line, according to the appellant, would have caused a crimping of the copper line. The clamped ferrule on the crimped copper line would make it most difficult to remove the ferrule from the copper line by hand. The appellant's evidence indicated that the line had never been crimped, from which it could be inferred that the appropriate nut had never been tightened sufficiently to cause the ferrule to clamp around the line and hold it securely in place. This failure made it possible for the copper line to become disconnected, causing a loss of air from the air lines which in turn caused the brakes on the truck to fail. There was evidence that at the time of the accident or immediately prior thereto, a swishing wind sound was heard coming from the truck. The evidence established that such a sound would be

[ 454 Pa. Page 229]

    made if the air supply line became disconnected causing a sudden loss of air pressure in the braking system. There was also evidence that after the accident the ferrule was removed from the line by hand in a very easy manner.

The Superior Court's reversal of the judgments in favor of the appellant was based primarily on its conclusion that certain photographs admitted into evidence at the appellant's request should not have been admitted because they had no probative value. These photographs were photographs of the copper portion of the air supply line which would have been crimped if the ferrule around the line had been properly clamped around it by the tightening of the nut on the ferrule. The photographs did not show any crimp in the copper line.

The photographs were taken at different times several months after the accident. Before the photographs were taken various changes were made on the truck. Because of the changes, the Superior Court concluded that the photographs were not relevant ...


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