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Baxter v. Ford Motor Co.

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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff purchased a vehicle from defendants under the impression that the vehicle’s windshield was made with shatterproof glass. Months later, a pebble hit the vehicle’s windshield. The impact caused glass to fly into plaintiff’s left eye and resulted in the loss of that eye. Plaintiff sued defendants to recover from his injuries.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A manufacturer may be held liable for the breach of an express warranty between itself and the buyer even in the absence of privity of contract.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

The rule in such cases does not rest upon contractual obligations, but rather on the principle that the original act of delivering an article is wrong, when, because of the lack of those qualities which the manufacturer represented it as having, the absence of which could not be readily detected by the consumer, the article is not safe for the purposes for which the consumer would ordinarily use it.

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Facts.

Baxter (plaintiff) purchased a Ford sedan from St. John Motors (co-defendant), a Ford dealer. St. John Motors had acquired the sedan from Ford Motor Company (co-defendant). During the transaction to purchase the sedan, Baxter alleged that representations were made to him that the windshield of the sedan was made of nonshatterable glass. Months later, Baxter was driving the sedan when a pebble struck the windshield. The impact of the pebble on the windshield caused small pieces of glasses to fly into Baxter’s left eye. As a result, Baxter lost his left eye and suffered injury to his right eye. Baxter sued both St. John Motors and Ford Motor Company to recover damages. At trial, the court refused to admit evidence of catalogues and printed matter that allegedly contained representations or warranties referencing the nature of the glass used in the windshield. The trial court entered judgment for both St. John Motors and Ford Motor Company. Baxter appealed.

Issue.

Whether the trial court erred in refusing to admit evidence of catalogues and printed matter given to plaintiff by defendants that included express warranties regarding the quality of the product received?

Held.

Yes, the trial court erred in failing to admit the evidence and effectively “[took] the case from the jury.” The jury was prevented from making finding of fact as to whether Ford Motor Company’s failure to equip the sedan with shatterproof glass was the proximate cause of Baxter’s injury. The decision of the lower court is reversed with directions to grant a new trial.

Discussion.

Defendant Ford Motor Company argued that it cannot be held liable because there was no implied or express warranty without privity of contract. However, methods of advertising have undergone a vast transformation. Now, radio, billboards, and printed materials allow a manufacturer to communicate directly with potential buyers. Even if there is no privity of contract between the buyer and manufacturer, the buyer should not be denied the right to recover damages. Here, the Ford sedan was represented as having a windshield with nonshatterable glass “so made that it will not fly or shatter under the hardest impact.” The falsity of such a representation could not readily detected by “a person of ordinary experience or reasonable prudence.” Therefore, a new trial is warranted so the jury can making a finding of fact as to whether Ford Motor Company’s failure to equip its sedans with nonshatterable glass was the proximate cause of Baxter’s injury.


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