Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

OLSEN v. UNITED STATES

October 19, 1981

Edward J. OLSEN, Jr., an Incompetent by Margaret A. Olsen, his Guardian, and Margaret A. Olsen in her own right
v.
The UNITED STATES of America v. FORD MOTOR COMPANY



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BECHTLE

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Presently before the Court is plaintiffs' motion for a new trial in a personal injury action, brought in the name of plaintiff Edward Olsen ("Olsen"), an incompetent, by his wife as guardian, and by his wife in her own right, to recover damages from defendant Ford Motor Company ("Ford") for the injuries Olsen suffered in an automobile accident in 1977. After ten days of trial, the jury returned a verdict in Ford's favor. After full consideration of plaintiffs' arguments, the Court has concluded that plaintiff is not entitled to a new trial. Accordingly, the plaintiffs' motion will be denied.

 I. Statement of the Case

 The accident occurred in the early morning of September 10, 1977. Olsen was seated in the front passenger seat of the car in question (a 1972 Pinto), in which he was traveling with three friends. The owner of the car, Dr. Timothy Cooper ("Cooper"), was driving. At the time of the accident, the car was traveling at about 50 to 70 miles per hour on a dry, two-lane highway. There was little traffic. An animal suddenly ran in front of the car and Cooper veered the car to the left to avoid it. He immediately turned the car back to the right to return to his lane, but upon doing so, the car "tripped" and began to roll over to the left-that is, driver's side first. The car rolled one-and-a-half times and came to rest on its roof.

 Two of the three occupants, other than Olsen, suffered minor injuries; the third suffered a broken neck, from which he later recovered. Olsen was found lying on the pavement two to twelve feet outside the car on the passenger side, bleeding from the head. The accident left him triplegic and incompetent, with the mental capacity of a ten-year-old.

 The roof of the Pinto was found crushed in the area of the right front (passenger's side) A-pillar, one of the two posts supporting the forward end of the roof. Plaintiffs contended that Olsen was injured when, in the course of the roll-over, the A-pillar gave way and allowed the roof to strike Olsen's head. It was plaintiffs' contention that the right front A-pillar had been defectively and negligently designed so as to be insufficiently strong, thus rendering Ford liable on principles of either strict products liability or negligence. Plaintiffs also argued that a weld at the base of the right front A-pillar had been defectively and negligently manufactured, and gave way during the roll-over. Defendant denied that the Pinto had been improperly designed and manufactured. In addition, defendant argued that Olsen had been thrown from the car at the beginning of the roll-over process and thus could not have been injured by the Pinto's roof, even if it had been defectively or negligently designed or manufactured.

 The jury delivered their verdict in answer to special interrogatories on each of the two legal theories, strict liability and negligence. The jury was first asked to state whether the Pinto had been defective and, if so, whether the defect had been the proximate cause of Olsen's injuries. Similarly, the jury was then asked whether Ford had acted negligently in the design or manufacture of the Pinto and, if so, whether Ford's negligence had been the proximate cause of Olsen's injuries. The jury found that the Pinto had not been defective and that Ford had not been negligent. Thus, the jury did not have to decide whether a defect or negligence proximately caused Olsen's injuries.

 With this brief background, the Court will now address the contentions raised by the plaintiffs.

 II. Plaintiffs' Grounds for New Trial

 A. Crashworthiness/Second Collision

 Plaintiffs first argue that the court failed to give the jury an adequate charge on plaintiffs' "crashworthiness" and "second collision" theories. In particular, plaintiffs state that the Court merely gave "a straight negligence and 402A charge." In plaintiffs' view, such a charge fails to inform the jury of the applicable law.

 In examining the charge for alleged error, it is necessary to view the charge as a whole. Ely v. Reading Co., 424 F.2d 758, 760 (3d Cir. 1970). Moreover, "(a) party has no vested interest in any particular form of instructions; the language of the charge is for the trial court to determine. If, from the entire charge, it appears that the jury has been fairly and adequately instructed, ... then the requirements of the law are satisfied." James v. Continental Insurance Co., 424 F.2d 1064, 1065 (3d Cir. 1970), quoted in Shaw v. Lauritzen, 428 F.2d 247, 251 (3d Cir. 1970).

 Turning to the case at bar, we first note that any failure to charge on so-called "crashworthiness" or "second collision" principles on the 402A phase of the case cannot be asserted to be the result of the Court's failure to heed plaintiffs' objections. Before charging the jury, the Court specifically asked plaintiffs' counsel which of his points for charge were submitted on the 402A theory and which were submitted on the negligence theory. N.T. 9-61. Plaintiffs' counsel thereafter stated three times that points 1-28, which included the points at issue here, were submitted to cover the negligence claim, while points 29 et seq. were submitted to cover the strict liability claim. See N.T. 9-61; 9-62; 9-67 to 9-68; 9-94; 10-6 to 10-7.

 Plaintiffs also appear to suggest that the "second collision" doctrine has developed into a cause of action distinguishable from negligence and strict products liability. See (Memorandum in Support of) Plaintiffs' Motion for a New Trial, at 7. Thus, plaintiffs seem to argue, a court cannot simply rely on principles of negligence and strict products liability where the "second collision" doctrine is involved. Plaintiffs, however, offer no support for their argument. This is understandable because it is clear that "crashworthiness" and "second collision" are merely alternative expressions for the notion that, within limits, automobile manufacturers may be held liable for injuries caused by their failure to take the possibility of automobile accidents into consideration in designing their products. See Dyson v. General Motors Corp., 298 F. Supp. 1064, 1072-1073 (E.D.Pa.1969). As explained below, that concept is applicable to cases tried on theories of both strict products liability and negligence. It does not, however, have a life of its own as a separate and distinct cause of action.

 The Court will assume, however, that plaintiffs' contention is that the Court's charge on strict products liability and negligence was inadequate because of the lack of more specific references to "crashworthiness" and "second collision." These terms are no doubt useful tools, as all words are, to guide courts, lawyers and juries in understanding more elaborate principles. Terms such as these, however, may be more attractive because of their brevity than they are useful from the viewpoint of comprehension. It is plainly preferable to concentrate on clearly explaining the relevant principles than to use shorthand expressions of uncertain or even incorrect meaning.

 The so-called "crashworthiness" and "second collision" doctrines have generally come into play in personal injury actions arising out of automobile accidents in which it is alleged that the design or construction of the vehicle did not cause the accident itself, but instead caused injury in the course of an accident resulting from some other cause. See generally 1 L. Frumer & M. Friedman, Products Liability ยง 6.05(14)(a) (1981). A split of authority has developed over whether an automobile manufacturer may ever be held liable for injuries suffered in an accident where the accident itself was not caused by a defect in the automobile. E. g. Evans v. General Motors Corp., 359 F.2d 822 (7th Cir. 1966) (manufacturer could not be held liable). Contra Larsen v. General Motors Corp., 391 F.2d 495 (8th Cir. 1968) (manufacturer may be liable). The rationale of those cases in which the manufacturer has been absolved from liability is that a manufacturer has a duty to make a product reasonably fit for its intended purpose, and "the intended purpose of an automobile does not include its participation in collisions with other objects, despite the manufacturer's ability to foresee the possibility that such collisions may occur." ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.