James R. Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh, for appellant.
Richard J. Mills, Meyer, Darragh, Buckler, Bebenek & Eck, Pittsburgh, for appellee.
Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Former Chief Justice Jones did not participate in the decision of this case.
The accident from which this matter arose occurred on January 2, 1968. On that date, Valentino Francioni, a truck driver employed by David Tesone Trucking Company and assigned to a 1957 White tractor with a Gilmore trailer attached, lost control of the tractor-trailer while driving down a highway in North Mahoney Township, Indiana County, Pennsylvania. The vehicle crashed through a highway guardrail and came to rest on its side in a creek at the bottom of an embankment. At the time of the accident, Francioni was on the business of his employer. The tractor was leased by David Tesone Trucking Company from Gibsonia Truck Corporation.
Francioni subsequently commenced this trespass action in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County against Gibsonia Truck Corporation seeking damages for personal injuries allegedly sustained in the accident. Two causes of action, negligence and strict liability in tort pursuant to Section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, were pleaded. With regard to the latter, it was alleged in the complaint that the accident was caused by a defect in the steering component of the tractor. At the close of plaintiff's case, the lower court granted defendant's motion for a compulsory non-suit on the 402A count. See Act of June 3, 1971, P.L. 120, No. 6, § 1, 12 P.S. § 645; Pa.R.Civ.P. 224. The case went to the jury on the count of negligence and a verdict in favor of defendant was returned.
Plaintiff then filed a motion to remove the compulsory non-suit, arguing, in the motion, that "proof of a lease between the defendant and the ultimate user of the product is sufficient to satisfy the requirements of 402A . . ." The court below concluded that expansion of the rule of strict liability to cover lessors was an issue
"more properly addressed to the appellate courts of this Commonwealth" for resolution and denied the motion on these grounds. On appeal the Superior Court affirmed per curiam without opinion. This appeal, after the grant of plaintiff's petition for allocatur, followed.
The application of strict liability in tort to lessors has never been considered by this Court although we have recognized strict liability recovery since our decision in Webb v. Zern, 422 Pa. 424, 220 A.2d 853 (1966). In that case we adopted Section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts as the law of Pennsylvania:
§ 402A. Special Liability of Seller of Product for Physical Harm to User or Consumer
(1) One who sells any product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer or to his property is subject to liability for physical harm thereby caused to the ...