Daly v. General Motors Corp., Sup. Ct Ca.

20 Cal.3d 725, 575 P.2d 1162, 144 Cal.Rptr. 380 (1978)


Daly (P), a 36-year-old attorney, was driving his Opel on the Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles. P was traveling at a speed of 50-70 miles per hour, and collided with and damaged 50 feet of metal divider fence. After the initial impact the Opel spun counterclockwise, the driver's door was thrown open, and P was forcibly ejected from the car and sustained fatal head injuries. It was equally undisputed that had the deceased remained in the Opel his injuries, in all probability, would have been relatively minor. Ps, who are decedent's widow and three surviving minor children, sued D for strict liability for damages allegedly caused by a defective product, namely, an improperly designed door latch claimed to have been activated by the impact. It was further asserted that but for the faulty latch, decedent would have been restrained in the vehicle and, although perhaps injured, would not have been killed. At trial, Ds were permitted to introduce evidence indicating that the car was equipped with a seat belt-shoulder harness system, and a door lock, either of which if used, it was contended, would have prevented P's ejection from the vehicle. It was established that D used neither the harness system nor the lock. The Opel owner's manual contained warnings that seat belts should be worn and doors locked when the car was in motion for 'accident security.' It was also established that P was intoxicated at the time of collision, which evidence the jury was advised was admitted for the limited purpose of determining whether P had used the vehicle's safety equipment. The jury returned a verdict favoring Ds and Ps appealed.