system and the manner in which it functioned on January 23, 1972, and the unfortunate accident of that date resulting in injuries to plaintiff and damage to her vehicle.
THE 41(b) MOTION
At the conclusion of the plaintiffs' case, the defendant submitted a motion for involuntary dismissal under F.R.C.P. 41(b) which the Court, as allowed by said rule, took under advisement pending the close of all the evidence. That motion will be granted.
The theories of implied warranty and strict liability under § 402A cannot afford the basis for recovery on this record. The presence of a "slight" accumulation of metallic particles in the particular steering system in 1975 proves little or nothing with respect to the condition of the system on January 23, 1972. Plaintiffs' expert, obviously well versed and well informed in the field, was careful not to prescribe any limits of contamination as responsible for any malfunction of the system. For the purpose of this motion, it must be assumed that the existence of contaminants in the system is not inconsistent with the theory that a malfunction occurred and that it was the result of such contaminants. That, however, does not establish that contaminants caused a malfunction or indeed that any malfunction occurred. Neither does it afford the basis upon which the fact-finder can reasonably draw the inference that a malfunction occurred as the result of defective design. Without again reviewing the Fonda testimony, it is sufficient to note that the motion under Rule 41(b) at the conclusion of the plaintiffs' case was sound. But for the fact that the required study of the record would have, at that time, delayed the continued taking of testimony, said motion would have and should have been granted.
ON THE MERITS
Testimony having been completed, we proceed, in the alternative, to a consideration of the merits. Having already reviewed the plaintiffs' evidence, we shall not engage in the same detailed review of the defendant's evidence. Suffice it to say that following the accident the vehicle was taken into custody and remained in the custody of the Philadelphia Police Department until January 25, 1972, when it was removed by the Pike's Towing Service. Police investigation at the scene disclosed tire marks or skid marks in the outside southbound lane of Belmont Avenue some 20 feet in length and curving to the left, towards the inside southbound lane, suggesting, but not proving, that plaintiffs' vehicle was in the outside southbound lane when the spin commenced. Evidence was produced as to the repair of the vehicle which included the replacement of the power steering pulley and the rebuilding of the power steering pump. This was accomplished when the odometer reading was 8389.
The repaired vehicle was thereafter purchased in April 1972 by one Elizabeth Comer who appeared as a witness and testified that she experienced no difficulties whatever with the power steering system. It was while she owned the vehicle, on November 23, 1975, that the plaintiffs' expert, Mr. Fonda, operated the vehicle and detected nothing unusual in its operation. On or about November 11, 1976, the power steering system which was in the vehicle on January 23, 1972, the date of the accident, also in the vehicle on April 15, 1975, when examined by Mr. Fonda, also in the vehicle on November 23, 1975, when reexamined by Mr. Fonda, was removed by a representative of the defendant and examined. At that time, the odometer reading was in excess of 31,000.
The extended testimony of the defendant's staff engineer, Charles Spalding, associated with the Saginaw Steering Gear Division, which manufactured the system, established that the system exhibited only those characteristics of normal use incident to a vehicle which had operated approximately 31,000 miles. The magnetic pick-up detected in such examination was that incident to normal wear and tear. He stated that magnetic pick-up is present in every Saginaw power system now in highway use, was present in the Saginaw power steering system in use in 1970, and has no harmful effect on the operation of the system. This testimony uncontradictedly establishes that the system is basically a manual steering system assisted by hydraulic pressures generated by a pump or pumps attached to and powered by the motor. Upon failure of the so-called "power assist" which is a function of the hydraulic system, the operator resorts to manual steering which, like any non-assisted manual system, consists of a solid connection from the steering wheel to the wheels on the road, subject at all times to the input of the driver at the steering wheel level. Thus, the circumstances of this accident are not inconsistent with the defendant's contention that said accident was the result of driver input in that the plaintiff operator, for whatever reason, lost control of her vehicle without the power steering system or the failure thereof having contributed thereto. We do not find that the accident was or was not the result of driver input or driver failure to have properly controlled the course of her vehicle. To hazard such a finding, on this record, "would be no more than a [mere] guess". Kuisis v. Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton Corporation, supra. We refuse to speculate as to the precise cause of the accident. Mrs. Clarke was a most credible witness. She was, in every sense of the word, a "lady" and obviously a fine person. While her testimony establishes what happened on January 23, 1972, it does not establish why it happened. It is sufficient that we find, as we do, that the accident in question was not the result of a design defect and was not the result of a malfunction of the power steering system. Thus, plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden of proof on those issues and we find in defendant's favor thereon.
It is significant that whereas the plaintiffs' expert, Mr. Fonda, was unable to specify any levels of contaminants as evidenced by magnetic pick-up in a power steering system which can cause malfunction of the system, the defendant's expert, Mr. Spalding, has observed and participated in extensive and adequate testing techniques of this very system over the years, has examined carefully and in detail the very system here involved and has determined that the magnetic residue therein did not interfere with the efficient and effective operation of the system on January 23, 1972.
We are compelled to conclude that plaintiffs have not established liability on the part of the defendant. Judgment will accordingly be entered for the defendant and in this bifurcated trial we need not reach the question of damages.
The above shall constitute our findings of fact and conclusions of law in accordance with F.R.C.P. Rule 41(b) and Rule 52(a).
AND NOW, this 20th day of April, 1977, IT IS ORDERED that defendant's motion to dismiss under and pursuant to F.R.C.P. 41 (b) is GRANTED; IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, in the alternative and on the merits, that judgment is entered for and in favor of the defendant and against the plaintiffs.
E. MAC TROUTMAN / J.
© 1992-2004 VersusLaw Inc.