The opinion of the court was delivered by: BECKER
EDWARD R. BECKER, District Judge.
The motion of Whiting Corporation for summary judgment requires us to consider the application of Pennsylvania's statutes of limitations in products liability cases. The amended complaint alleges breach of warranty in the sale of a railroad "trackmobile," a machine employed to draw boxcars along industrial sidings.
Defendant Whiting Corporation sold the trackmobile in question to the Allied Chemical & Dye Corporation, Barrett Division, predecessor in interest of the third party defendant Celotex Corporation, the plaintiff's employer, on March 30, 1960. More than ten years later, on August 11, 1970, the plaintiff sustained injuries when a boxcar being pulled by the Celotex-operated trackmobile collided with a trash "dumpster" on a Celotex siding, driving it into the plaintiff and pinning him against a girder.
Subject to a narrow exception not applicable here, Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c) bars addition of a defendant after the limitations period has run.
Accord, Miller v. Jacobs, 361 Pa. 492, 65 A.2d 362, 365 (1949). The foregoing facts are not in dispute. Thus, Whiting is entitled to summary judgment unless the plaintiff has the benefit of a four year limitations period accruing at the date of the injury.
In general, Pennsylvania law imposes a two year statute accruing at the time of injury on actions for personal injury, whether sounding in assumpsit or in trespass (whether negligence or strict liability).
Personal injury actions arising from breach of warranty in the sale of goods, however, must be filed within four years of the date not of injury but of sale. Uniform Commercial Code § 2-725.
This proposition was settled in Rufo v. Bastian-Blessing Co., 417 Pa. 107, 207 A.2d 823 (1965). In that case, a consumer had purchased bottled gas for a torch used in his work from a retailer in March 1956. Gas escaping from a valve on the bottle caused an explosion and injuries in December 1957. A complaint against the manufacturer alleging breach of warranty was filed in July 1960. The court held plaintiff's claim barred because the accrual date of § 2-725's four year limit was the date of the breach; that is, of tender of delivery; and certainly no later than the date of resale by the retailer. 207 A.2d at 826. Accord, Hoeflich v. William S. Merrell Co., 288 F. Supp. 659 (E.D.Pa.1968).
Under either the two or the four year statute, the time ensuing since the applicable accrual date would bar the present plaintiff's claim against Whiting. The plaintiff seeks to escape this fatal result by pointing to the recent decision in Salvador v. Atlantic Steel Boiler Co. (Appeal of I. H. English, Inc.), 457 Pa. 24, 319 A.2d 903 (1974), aff'g 224 Pa.Super. 377, 307 A.2d 398 (1973). That case enlarged the rights of those injured by allegedly defective products and claiming breach of warranty, by abolishing the former requirement of "horizontal privity" which had barred the injured user of a product who was not also a direct purchaser from suing the manufacturer or vendor.
Salvador suffered injuries when a steam boiler exploded at his place of work in May 1967. He filed his breach of warranty action in March 1971, almost four years later. 319 A.2d at 904. In affirming the order of the Superior Court which reversed the lower court's dismissal and remanded the case for trial, the Supreme Court did not discuss the point that the defendant had a complete statute of limitations defense under Rufo and the undisputed facts of the case. See Murray, Products Liability -- Another Word, 35 U.Pitt.L.Rev. 255, 260-74 (1973). Professor Murray points out:
The Rufo case is not mentioned in the Salvador [Superior Court] opinion nor in the briefs filed in that case . . . . There was no mention of the date of delivery and installation of the boiler in the [Superior Court] opinion or in the briefs filed in that case, although the date of delivery and installation was critical . . . . However, [a telephone conversation with the defendant's attorney] has revealed that the boiler was installed up to seven years prior to the time of the explosion and injury. If this information is correct, the plaintiff's cause of action under the Code would have been clearly barred by the statute of limitations.
35 U.Pitt.L.Rev. at 261 (footnotes omitted). Not having this critical information, the Superior Court said:
The fact that the statute of limitations has run on his tort action [is] immaterial. A personal injury claim based upon a breach of warranty is distinct from a personal injury claim based on negligence and can be commenced within four years after the cause of action has occurred; Uniform Commercial Code of 1953, P.L. 3, § 2-725, as amended; Gardiner v. Philadelphia Gas Works, 413 Pa. 415, 197 A.2d 612 (1964).
Gardiner had held that U.C.C. § 2-725 applied to breach of warranty actions even when the resulting injury was personal and bodily. It had not discussed the accrual date of such actions, nor had it even mentioned the relevant portion of § 2-725(2). This question was addressed and answered, as we indicated above, in Rufo, decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court a year later. See Rufo, supra, 207 A.2d at 826 n.3 (clarifying and explaining Gardiner).
Statutes of limitations, as their name suggests, are legislative, not judicial creations. While the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and indeed to some extent this Court have the power to construe such statutes, neither they nor we can overrule them. Nor should a court "construe" a statute against the plain meaning of the words. See 46 Pa.Stat. § 551 (1969); United States v. Hartwell, 73 U.S. (6 Wall.) 385, 396, 18 L. Ed. 830 (1868). Moreover, the purpose of a court to overrule prior authority is not lightly to be presumed, especially an overruling sub silentio. City of Pittsburgh v. Public Parking Authority, 11 Pa.Cmwlth. 442, 314 A.2d 887, 890 (1974), cert. denied, 421 U.S. 912, 95 S. Ct. 1566, 43 L. Ed. 2d 777 (1975); cf. Burnet v. Coronado Oil & Gas Co., 285 U.S. 393, 52 S. Ct. 443, 76 L. Ed. 815 (1932). Accordingly, we will not conclude that Salvador created a new, hybrid, four year limitation period accruing at the time of injury, or that Salvador overruled Rufo, if there is any other reasonable interpretation or explanation of that case.
We conclude that there is. The statute of limitations defense was apparently neither briefed nor argued in the Supreme Court in Salvador. Indeed, the defendant seems never to have raised the defense at all, and the date of sale of the allegedly defective boiler was not even in the record. See Murray, supra, 35 U.Pitt.L.Rev. at 261 & n. 25. The Supreme Court was aware of Professor Murray's article and hence of the crucial facts. See 319 A.2d at 906 n. 9. But under these circumstances, the Court must simply have deemed the point waived. See 42 Pa.Cons.Stat., R.Civ.P. 1030 & 1032 (1975); Schmucker v. Naugle, 426 Pa. 203, 231 A.2d 121, 123 (1967); Anderson v. Bernhard Realty Sales Co., 230 ...