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Products Liability

The judgment should be affirmed. Willard Bartlett, Ch.J., Dissenting. [Omitted] B. STRICT LIABILITY

William B. GREENMAN, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. YUBA POWER PRODUCTS, INC., Defendant and Appellant; Supreme Court of California (1963)


Plaintiff brought this action for damages against the retailer and the manufacturer of a Shopsmith, a combination power tool that could be used as a saw, drill, and wood lathe. He saw a Shopsmith demonstrated by the retailer and studied a brochure prepared by the manufacturer. He decided he wanted a Shopsmith for his home workshop, and his wife bought and gave him one for Christmas in 1955. In 1957 he bought the necessary attachments to use the Shopsmith as a lathe for turning a large piece of wood he wished to make into a chalice. After he had worked on the piece of wood several times without difficulty, it suddenly flew out of the machine and struck him on the forehead, inflicting serious injuries. About ten and a half months later, he gave the retailer and the manufacturer written notice of claimed breaches of warranties and filed a complaint against them alleging such breaches and negligence. After a trial before a jury, the court ruled that there was no evidence that the retailer was negligent or had breached any express warranty and that the manufacturer was not liable for the breach of any implied warranty. Accordingly, it submitted to the jury only the cause of action alleging breach of implied warranties against the retailer and the causes of action alleging negligence and breach of express warranties against the manufacturer. The jury returned a verdict for the retailer against plaintiff and for plaintiff against the manufacturer in the amount of $65,000. The trial court denied the manufacturer’s motion for a new trial and entered judgment on the verdict. The manufacturer and plaintiff appeal. Plaintiff seeks a reversal of the part of the judgment in favor of the retailer, however, only in the event that the part of the judgment against the manufacturer is reversed.

Plaintiff introduced substantial evidence that his injuries were caused by defective design and construction of the Shopsmith. His expert witnesses testified that inadequate set screws were used to hold parts of the machine together so that normal vibration caused the tailstock of the lathe to move away from the piece of wood being turned permitting it to fly out of the lathe. They also testified that there were other more positive ways of fastening the parts of the machine together, the use of which would have prevented the accident. The jury could therefore reasonably have concluded that the manufacturer negligently constructed the Shopsmith. The jury could also reasonably have concluded that statements in the manufacturer’s brochure were untrue, that they constituted express warranties, and that plaintiff’s injuries were caused by their breach.

In this respect the trial court limited the jury to a consideration of two statements in the manufacturer’s brochure. (1) ‘WHEN SHOPSMITH IS IN HORIZONTAL POSITION Rugged construction of frame provides rigid support from end to end. Heavy centerless-ground steel tubing insurers perfect alignment of components.’ (2) ‘SHOPSMITH maintains its accuracy because every component has positive locks that hold adjustments through rough or precision work.'[The court examines the manufacturer’s contention that the suit is barred because the plaintiff failed to comply with a California Civil Code requirement that an injured party give timely notice to a seller against whom a suit is to be filed. The court refuses to apply such a notice requirement against a consumer purchaser, calling it a “booby-trap for the unwary.”]

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