Daly v. General Motors Case Brief

Summary of Daly v. General Motors, S. Ct California [1978]

Defenses – Plaintiff’s Conduct

Relevant Facts: A driver of an Opel automobile, was thrown from his car in an accident because of an alleged defect of the door latch. There was evidence that the driver was intoxicated and he did not use the shoulder harness or lock the door. The driver sustained a fatal head injury.

Legal Issue(s): Whether principles of comparative negligence expressed in Li decision applied to actions founded on strict products liability?

Court’s Holding: Yes, but modified and extended.

Procedure: Sup Ct jury judgment in favor of Dfs, and Pls appealed. Reversed by S. Ct

Law or Rule(s): The Pl’s injury must have been caused by a “defect," in the product. The manufacturer is not deemed responsible when injury results from an unforeseeable use of its product. Li – loss should be assessed equitably in proportion to fault. Comparative negligence is a defense to strict liability.

Court Rationale: Strict liability was imposed against manufacturers to relieve consumers “from the problems of proof inherent in pursuing negligence and warranty remedies." Cts have sought to place the burden of loss on manufacturers rather than “injured persons who are powerless to protect themselves." Pl’s own conduct, relative to the product, is not allowed to escape unexamined, and as to that share of Pl’s damages which flows from his own fault there is no reason why it should be borne by others. A system of comparative fault should be and is hereby extended to actions founded on strict products liability. Principles of comparative negligence expressed in Li decision apply to actions founded on strict products liability, thereby reducing plaintiff’s recovery only to the extent that his own act of reasonable care contributed to his injury; in such cases, there exists no separate defense of “assumption of risk” to the extent that such assumption of risk is a form of contributory negligence.The separate defense of AofR in its form of contributory negligence is abolished.

Plaintiff’s Argument: Strict liability is not founded on negligence or fault, and it is inhospitable to comparative principles.

Defendant’s Argument: The Pl’s conduct was proportional in the fault resulting in the injury claimed.

Effect: Despite application of comparative principles to strict products liability actions, Pl in such actions are still relieved of proving that manufacturer or distributor was negligent in production, design or dissemination of article in question and liability of such manufacturer or distributor for injuries caused by defective product remains strict. Manufacturer cannot avoid its liability for defective product even when Pl’s own conduct has contributed to Pl’s injury; manufacturer’s exposure to liability may be lessened only to extent that trier finds that victim’s conduct contributed to his injury. Comparative defenses , if established, will reduce but not bar PL’s claim

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