Brief Fact Summary.
Escola was injured when a soda bottle broke in her hand as she moved it from the case to the fridge despite handling the bottle carefully. A Coca Cola engineer testified that the bottles undergo “pretty near” infallible tests.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
When a defendant produces evidence to rebut the inference of negligence based on res ipsa loquitur, it is ordinarily a question of fact for the jury to determine whether the inference has been rebutted.
The retailer, even though not equipped to test a product, is under an absolute liability to his customer, for the implied warranties of fitness for proposed use and merchantable quality include a warranty of safety of the product.View Full Point of Law
Escola was injured when a soda bottle broke in her hand as she moved it from the case to the fridge. Escola testified that she handled the bottle carefully. Coca Cola uses pressure to bottle carbonated beverages. An engineer from Coca Cola testified that the bottles undergo “pretty near” infallible tests.
Was Escola entitled to the res ipsa loquitur inference of negligence?
Yes. Escola could be entitled to the res ipsa loquitur inference of negligence.
A manufacturer should be held strictly liable when a product that he failed to inspect and placed on the market proves to have a defect that causes injury to humans.
Even if there is no negligence on the manufacturer’s part, public policy demands responsibility be fixed wherever the hazards will be most effectively reduced. A manufacturer can anticipate some hazards and guard against them in a manner that the public cannot.
The inference of negligence can be rebutted by a showing of proper care. Requiring an injured plaintiff to sue the retailer, and then requiring the retailer to recover damages from the manufacturer, is needless and borders on wasteful litigation.
There ought not be any difference between protection afforded to consumers in defective food product cases than for other goods. As mass production replaces handcrafted goods, the close relationship between consumer and producer has been altered, such that the consumer no longer has the means or skill to investigate for himself the soundness of a product. The manufacturer’s obligation to the consumer must keep pace with this changing relationship, and there is greater reason to put the burden of liability on the manufacturer than on the retailer who also has lesser means to investigate the safety or effectiveness of a good.
There appears to be a commonly used method to test bottles for defects not discoverable by visual inspection. Since Coca Cola bottles are subject to these tests, it is unlikely that the defect occurred at the time of manufacturing.
Coca Cola Bottling Co. of Fresno bottles both used and new bottles, but the used bottles are not subject to testing. If such defects do occur in used bottles, then there is a duty on the bottler to either conduct the tests on the used bottles or abstain from re-using used bottles if such tests are not commercially practicable.
Even though it’s unclear if the explosion was caused by an excessive charge or a defect in the glass, there is sufficient showing that neither cause would ordinary be present if the bottler had exercised due care in testing the bottle, especially given that the bottler had exclusive control over both the charging and inspection of the bottles.