Torts II, Pages 827–828

Ford Motor Co. v. Matthews

Supreme Court of Mississippi, 1974

Facts:

Deceased started his tractor while standing next to it. The tractor was in gear at the time and equipped with a starter safety switch, but the safety switch was defective and did not stop the tractor. The tractor started and ran the deceased over with the attached disc, killing him.

Procedural History:

Trial court found for plaintiff and entered a judgment of $74,272.65.

Issue:

Is plaintiff barred by the decedent's alleged misuse?

Defendant's Argument:

Plaintiff starting the tractor from the ground while in gear was a misuse of defendant's product and an absolute limitation on defendant's liability.

Rule:

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Although misuse of a product that causes an injury is normally a bar to strict liability, it is said that: ". . . The manufacturer is not liable for injuries resulting from abnormal or unintended use of his product, if such use was not reasonably foreseeable. The issue is one of foreseeability and misuse may be foreseeable."

Reasoning:

  • The cause of the accident was the safety switch failure to prevent the tractor from cranking over. The decedent's alleged failure would be only an omission of a customary precaution, but there is no evidence that he was aware of any danger in doing this.

  • It could, on the other hand, be foreseen by defendant that one day an operator might crank the engine without making sure that it was not in gear, especially if he were aware of the safety switch. Even if the deceased was guilty of negligence, it was reasonably foreseeable by defendant and does not bar his estate's action.

Holding:

No, plaintiff is not barred. Affirmed.

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