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Verge v. Ford Motor Co.

decided: August 8, 1978.

JESUS GARCIA VERGE AND THE COMMISSIONER OF LABOR OF THE GOVERNMENT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
v.
FORD MOTOR CO., ELGIN-LEACH CORP., LEACH CO., ISLA VERDE SALES, INC. AND JOHN DOE FORD MOTOR CO., APPELLANT



APPEAL FROM UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS; DIVISION OF ST. CROIX (D.C. Civil Action No. 75-130)

Before Gibbons, Garth and Higginbotham, Circuit Judges.

Author: Higginbotham

Opinion OF THE COURT

We must address, in this case, a little-litigated subtlety of products liability law: On whom to place design responsibilities where a product has been manufactured and assembled in more than one stage. Because we conclude that the Ford Motor Company was not responsible for the design defect here, we hold that the district court erred in denying Ford's Motion for Judgment n. o. v.

I.

The plaintiff, Jesus Garcia Verge, was an employee of the Government of the Virgin Island's Department of Public Works Sanitation Division. He worked on a garbage collection crew in St. Croix. On February 23, 1973, while Mr. Verge was standing at the rear of a garbage truck, a co-worker placed a full can of garbage about three feet behind him. Then the driver of the truck, without having received a signal to proceed, without checking to locate the position of Mr. Verge and the other crew members and without any warning to them, put the truck into reverse gear. Mr. Verge was pinned between the truck and the garbage can that had been left behind him. As a result of this accident, he suffered a broken leg.

Mr. Verge filed a complaint against Ford, the Elgin-Leach Corp., Leach Co., Isla Verde Sales, Inc. and John Doe Corp. alleging that his injuries were caused by the defendants in that they:

(a) Designed, manufactured, assembled, distributed and sold the garbage truck in an unsafe condition.

(b) Designed, manufactured, assembled, distributed and sold the garbage truck in a condition unreasonably dangerous for its intended use.

(c) Failed to exercise reasonable care in the adoption of a safe plan or design of the garbage truck, which failure made the truck dangerous for the purposes for which it was manufactured.

(Complaint). More specifically, it is alleged that the defendants failed:

to equip the truck with mirrors or other devices by which the operator of the truck would be able to ascertain the presence of individuals to its rear, prior to reversing the vehicle. The defendants further failed to equip the garbage truck with an operable buzzer or other device which would warn Jesus Garcia Verge and other persons foreseeably similarly situated that the garbage truck was to be reversed.

Id. A settlement between the plaintiff and Elgin-Leach Corporation and Leach Co. was reached before trial. It does not appear from the record that service of process was ever made upon the John Doe Corporation. Neither does it appear that Isla Verde Sales, Inc. was ever made party to this action.

The case against Ford was based on Section 402A of the Restatement (2d) of Torts.*fn1 The jury returned a verdict of $75,000.00 in Mr. Verge's favor. Ford moved for judgment n. o. v., ...


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