Heaton v. Ford Motor Co.

435 P.2d 806 (Or. 1967)

While Plaintiff was driving a Ford truck at highway speed, the wheel of his truck struck a large rock.  Plaintiff continued for another 35 miles and then truck tipped over.  Plaintiff claimed that after hitting the rock he kept driving because he thought the truck was built strong enough to go over such rocks.  No clear cause of the accident was determined.

The issue facing the court was whether Plaintiff produced sufficient evidence to support his allegation that the wheel of the truck was dangerously defective.  The court determined that there was not sufficient evidence to make that determination.

The court reasoned that in cases where there is no direct or circumstantial evidence to prove exactly what sort of manufacturing flaw existed, or exactly how the design was deficient, a plaintiff may nonetheless be able to establish his right to recovery by proving that the product did not perform in keeping with the reasonable expectations of the user.  In this case, however, the jury is unequipped to answer this type of question.  High speed collisions with rocks are not so common that the average person would know from personal experience what to expect under the circumstance.  Furthermore, if case goes the jury, jury will have to form opinion without the benefit of data concerning the cost feasibility of designing and building stronger tires.  To allow the jury to decide purely on its intuition on how strong a truck wheel should be would convert the concept of strict liability into the absolute liability of an insurer.

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