Torts II, Pages 822–826

Daly v. General Motors Corp.

Supreme Court of California, 1978

Facts:

Decedent was driving down the highway drunk, without his seatbelt on, and without his door locked. He hit a metal divider at 50 mph, was thrown through out his door, and killed. His family sued for the door latch being defective and opening during the crash upon the theory of strict liability.

Procedural History:

Jury found for defendant.

Issue:

Does comparative negligence apply to strict products liability cases?

(Old) Rule:

Contributory negligence generally is not a defense to a strict products liability action, but it does bar claims when it comprises assumption of risk.

Reasoning:

  • While comparative negligence does not make sense in a strict liability case if one is being strictly logical, the terms have been applied loosely. Strict liability was created to protect the defenseless consumers in cases where negligence could not be proved. Comparative negligence will not frustrate this goal. Plaintiffs still will not have to prove negligence and therefore the defenseless will still be protected. Yet plaintiffs should be held liable for their own fault, as holding the defendant liable ultimately just passes the expenses of plaintiffs' failures onto the rest of society.

  • Manufacturers will still be liable, just for a lesser amount; and not all plaintiffs will be negligent. Manufacturers will still be discouraged in spite of this adoption.

    Completely barring plaintiffs' strict liability claims for being negligent and thereby assuming the risk is actually harsher than the results in negligence cases. Strict liability was designed to free consumers from the constraints of traditional legal requirements, yet it is now putting them in a worse position.

  • Jurors can measure a plaintiff's negligence find in strict liability cases. Most states already do it.

Holding:

Yes, comparative negligence applies to strict liability cases. Reversed.

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