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Products Liability

In reaching this conclusion, we do not ignore the decisions to the contrary in other jurisdictions. * * *

In England the limits of the rule are still unsettled. Winterbottom v. Wright (10 M. & W. 109) is often cited. The defendant undertook to provide a mail coach to carry the mail bags. The coach broke down from latent defects in its construction. The defendant, however, was not the manufacturer. The court held that he was not liable for injuries to a passenger. * * * At all events, in Heaven v. Pender(supra) the defendant, a dock owner, who put up a staging outside a ship, was held liable to the servants of the shipowner. In Elliot v. Hall (15 Q.B.D. 315) the defendant sent out a defective truck laden with goods which he had sold. The buyer’s servants unloaded it, and were injured because of the defects. It was held that the defendant was under a duty ‘not to be guilty of negligence with regard to the state and condition of the truck. ‘ * * * A later case (White v. Steadman, L.R.(1913), 3 K.B. 340,348). emphasizes that element. A livery stable keeper who sent put a vicious horse was held liable not merely to his customer but also to another occupant of the carriage, and Thomas v. Winchester was cited[.] * * * That at bottom is the underlying principle of Devlin v. Smith. The contractor who builds the scaffold invites the owner’s work-men to use it. The manufacturer who sells the automobile to the retail dealer invites the dealer’s customers to use it. The invitation is addressed in the one case to determinate persons and in the other to an indeterminate class, but in each case it is equally plain, and in each its consequences must be the same.

There is nothing anomalous in a rule which imposes upon A, who has contracted with B, a duty to C and D and others according as he knows or does not know that the subject matter of the contract is intended for their use. We may find an analogy in the law which measures the liability of landlords. If A leases to B a tumble-down house he is not liable, in the absence of fraud, to B’s guests who enter it and are injured. This is because B is then under the duty to repair it, the lessor has the right to suppose that he will fulfill that duty, and if he omits to do so, his guests must look to him [Cc]. But if A leases a building to be used by the lessee at once as a place of public entertainment, the rule is different. There is injury to persons other than the lessee is to be foreseen, and foresight of the consequences involves the creation of a duty [Cc] In this view of the defendant’s liability there is nothing in- consistent with the theory of liability on which the case was tried. It is true that the court told the jury that ‘an automobile is not an inherently dangerous vehicle.‘ The meaning, however, is made plain by the context. The meaning is that danger is not to be expected when the vehicle is well constructed. The court left it to the jury to say whether the defendant ought to have foreseen that the car, if negligently constructed, would become ‘imminently dangerous.‘ Subtle distinctions are drawn by the defendant between things inherently dangerous and things imminently dangerous, but the case does not turn upon these verbal niceties. If danger was to be expected as reasonably certain, there was a duty of vigilance, and this whether you call the danger inherent or imminent. In varying forms that the court would not have been justified in ruling as a matter of law that the car was a dangerous thing. If there was any error, it was none of which the defendant can complain.

We think the defendant was not absolved from a duty of inspection because it bought the wheels from a reputable manufacturer. It was not merely a dealer in automobiles. It was a manufacturer of automobiles. It was responsible for the finished product. It was not at liberty to put the finished product on the market without subjecting the componet parts to ordinary and simple tests [Cc] * * * The obligation to inspect must vary with the nature of the thing to be inspected. The more probable the danger, the greater the need of caution. * * * Other rulings complained of have been considered, but no error has been found on them.

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