Maloney v. Rath Case Brief

Summary of Maloney v. Rath, S Ct of CA [1968]

Vicarious Liability

Relevant Facts: Df’s car collided w/ a car driven by Pl. The accident was caused by brake failure. Three months prior to the accident Df had hired a mechanic to perform brake repairs on the car. It was determined that his repairs were done negligently which caused the accident.

Legal Issue(s): Whether motorist’s duty to maintain automobile brakes was nondelegable and if motorist was relieved from liability for damage which occurred in rear-end automobile collision which was proximately caused by failure of motorist’s brakes because failure resulted from improper installation of brake?

Court’s Holding: Nondelegable and motorist was not relieved from liability.

Procedure: The Sup Ct J entered judgment for DF and denied PL’s motion NOV, and PL appealed; S. Ct CA Reversed and remanded for new trial on issue of damages only.

Law or Rule(s): A nondelegable duty operates, not as a substitute for liability based on negligence, but to assure that when a negligently caused harm occurs, the injured party will be compensated by the person whose activity caused the harm and who may therefore properly be held liable for the ngeligence of his agent, whether the agent was independent contractor or employee.

Court Rationale: Statutory provision regulating maintenance and equipment of automobiles constituted express legislative recognition of facts that improperly maintained motor vehicles threaten a grave risk of serious bodily harm or death and that responsibility for minimizing that risk or compensating for the failure to do so properly rests with the persons who own and operate the vehicles.

Duty to exercise reasonable care to maintain brakes so that they comply with provisions of statutes is nondelegable duty. Since it was Df’s duty to maintain her brakes in compliance w/ the provisions of the Vehicle Code is nondelegable, the fact that the brake failure was the result of her independent contractor’s negligence is no defense.

Plaintiff’s Argument: DF hired the mechanic, and his negligence is immaterial to a claim by Pl against her failure to maintain the brakes in compliance with the law.

Defendant’s Argument: A violation of a safety provision of the Vehicle Code does not make the violator strictly liable for damage caused by the violations.

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