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Rix v. General Motors Corp.

Citation. 222 Mont. 318, 723 P.2d 195
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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff was injured after his pickup truck was rear-ended by two ton chassis-cab manufactured by defendant. The two ton chassis-cab had been equipped with a water tank after its sale by the dealer and had a defective brake tube. Plaintiff sued defendant on a theory of strict liability, contending that the two ton chassis-cab was unreasonably dangerous due to manufacturing and design defects. Defendant alleged that the defective brake tube was not its responsibility and that the tube had been altered after it left the assembly line.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A manufacturer cannot be held strictly liable in tort under a manufacturing defect theory when the product was not flawed or defective when it was constructed by the manufacturer.


Michael Rix (plaintiff) was driving his pickup truck when he was hit from behind by a General Motors Corp. (“GMC”) (defendant) two ton chassis-cab. The two ton chassis-cab had been equipped with a water tank after its sale. Rix suffered injuries as a result of the accident. He sued GMC on a theory of strict liability. Rix alleged that the two ton-chassis cab was an unreasonably dangerous product because of both manufacturing and design defects. Rix further alleged that GMC was strictly liable because the company had placed the product into the stream of commerce. GMC stipulated that the accident occurred because of a brake failure resulting from a defective brake tube. However, GMC also contended that the defect was not present when the product left the assembly line. The defect was instead introduced by someone else who later altered the product. Therefore, GMC claimed that the defective tube was not the company’s responsibility. The jury was instructed that, in order to make a finding of strict liability, they would have to find: (1) that GMC sold a dangerous product, (2) that the product reached the consumer without substantial change in its condition, and (3) that the defective condition proximately caused the injury to plaintiff. The jury returned a verdict in favor of GMC. Rix appealed to the Supreme Court of Montana, alleging that improper instructions were given to the jury. Namely, Rix argued that the jury instructions improperly stated Montana’s law regarding the tracing requirement back to GMC.


Whether the trial court properly instructed the jury on strict liability under a manufacturing defect theory?


Yes, adequate jury instructions were given on strict liability under a manufacturing defect theory. The case is reversed on other grounds and remanded for a new trial.


Under the manufacturing defect theory, the key concern is whether the product in question was flawed or detective because it was not constructed correctly by the manufacturer. Here, the brake tube on the two ton chassis-cab had not been altered after it left the GMC assembly line. The defect was introduced by someone else who later altered the product by equipping it with a water tank after its sale. The jury instructions were adequate.

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