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SOCHANSKI v. SEARS

May 15, 1979

Stanley J. SOCHANSKI
v.
SEARS, ROEBUCK AND COMPANY and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HANNUM

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This diversity products liability case was tried to a jury, the issues of liability bifurcated from those relating to damages. The liability questions were submitted to the jury solely under the theory of Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 402A, *fn1" the plaintiff having abandoned other theories of liability. *fn2" In answers to special interrogatories the jury found that the products sold by the defendants were defective when sold; the defects rendered the products unreasonably dangerous to the plaintiff; the defects were proximate causes of his accident; and plaintiff had not voluntarily assumed the risk of his injuries. In accordance with these answers the Court directed entry of a verdict on liability in favor of the plaintiff and against both defendants. Thereafter, the case proceeded on the issues of damages, resulting in a verdict of $ 395,000. Judgment on the verdict was entered in that amount.

 Both defendants have timely moved for judgment N. o. v. and, in the alternative, for a new trial. These motions are properly before the Court, as each defendant moved for a directed verdict at the close of plaintiff's case and, again, at the close of all the evidence. *fn3"

 I. Judgment N.O.V. Motions.

 Background.

 In June, 1974, plaintiff was employed as a tire changer or tire repairman at Palmer Tire Company. On June 10, 1974, a customer brought into Palmer a small garden cart tire to have what was described as a "slow leak" repaired. The repair job was assigned to plaintiff. The tire itself was manufactured and sold by Goodyear and mounted on a wheel manufactured and sold by Geneva Metal Wheels Company. *fn4" The wheel unit (i. e., tire and wheel combination) was incorporated into a garden cart, which was eventually sold by Sears.

 On June 10, 1974, while plaintiff was in the process of inserting an inner tube into the wheel unit, *fn5" there was an "explosion" that caused the entire unit to be propelled upward from the floor where it was being worked on, striking plaintiff in the face, and causing injury to him. Plaintiff recalled nothing after the explosion until he regained consciousness in the hospital.

 At trial, plaintiff contended both that the tire itself was defective and that the wheel unit was defective. No evidence of a specific defect in either product was adduced; rather, plaintiff proceeded to prove the existence of defects by relying on the "malfunction rule." *fn6"

 Defendants, on the other hand, contended that no defects existed whatsoever and, further, that the "malfunction rule" was inapplicable to this case because plaintiff had failed to introduce any evidence to negate a reasonable other cause of the accident; that is, mis-mounting of the tire on the wheel. It was defendant's contention (and was so testified to by Goodyear's expert) that, in remounting the tire after insertion of the inner tube, plaintiff had mis-aligned the tire "bead," causing the inner tube to be pinched between the bead and the wheel; that when plaintiff inflated the tube this pinching caused the tube to rupture i. e., "explode" propelling the wheel unit upward and striking the plaintiff.

 Discussion.

 Under Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 402A:

 
(a) the seller is engaged in the business of selling such a product, and
 
(b) it is expected to and does reach the user or consumer without substantial change in the ...

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