Friday, March 16, 2012

Case Brief: Campbell v. Robbins Tire and Rubber Company, Inc.

Today's "Case Brief" is Campbell v. Robbins Tire and Rubber Co., Inc., 256 S.C. 230, 182 S.E.2d 73 (1971) and involves a plaintiff who was injured while inflating at tire.  The guy in the video clip is not a plaintiff...he's actually trying to pop the tire tube.  I find his facial expressions of anticipation pretty funny.

Campbell is relatively short case, and I like it because (one can argue) it supports the necessity of expert testimony in a products liability case in order to prove defect.  The mere fact that a product malfunctions does not demonstrate it was defective.  A plaintiff has to prove this critical element.  (Although not exactly the same, this also ties into the fact that South Carolina does not recognize the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor).

FACTUAL BACKGROUND:  Plaintiff purchased two tire tubes manufactured by Defendant.  256 S.C. at 231, 182 S.E.2d at 74.  He put one on his truck, and it exploded during inflation, causing him to be injured.  Id.

PROCEDURE: Plaintiff sued Defendant for negligence in failing to inspect the tube before putting it on the market, in manufacturing a defective tube with weak seams and rubber, and in failing to warn Plaintiff of the defect.  256 S.C. at 232, 182 S.E.2d at 74.  At trial, Plaintiff won a verdict for actual damages.  Id.  Defendant made the appropriate motions during trial for directed verdict and for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on grounds that there was no evidence of defect or actionable negligence.  Id.  These motions were denied, and Defendant appealed.  Id

ISSUE(S): Whether the trial court erred in denying Defendant's directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict motions. 

DISPOSITION: Yes, the trial court was in error.  256 S.C. at 234, 182 S.E.2d at 75.  Reversed and remanded.  Id.

RULES AND OPINION: The court noted that it "elementary" that for Plaintiff to recover, he has the burden of proving defect and that the defect proximately caused his injury.  256 S.C. at 232, 182 S.E.2d at 74. The record showed that Plaintiff testified he had been a service station operator for 15 years, and a large part of his job was repairing, servicing and mounting truck tires.  Id. at 233, 182 S.E.2d at 74.  He testified as to precisely how he went about inflating the tire, including an account of the amount of air pressure in the tire during inflation.  Id.  During this process, the tire exploded.  Id.

The court noted that although Plaintiff offered evidence of injury, there was no evidence going to the issue of defect.  Id. at 233-34, 182 S.E.2d at 75.  Conversely, Defendant had the tube examined and inspected by an independent expert who found no inclusions, cracks, holes, or thin spots.  Id.  The expert confirmed the tube's correct chemical composition and tensile strength, and he offered testimony that the tube was inspected prior to delivery to dealers.  Id.

After reviewing this evidence, the court stated that Plaintiff failed to establish that there was a defect in the tire.  Id. at 234, 182 S.E.2d at 75.  "The burden was on [Plaintiff] to show that the tube was defective and such resulted from the negligent manufacture thereof by the appellant.  The mere fact that the tube exploded does not demonstrate the manufacturer's negligence nor tend to establish that the tube was defective."  Id. (emphasis added).  Viewing the record in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the court concluded that the only reasonable inference was that Defendant was not guilty of negligence, and the trial judge should have directed a verdict in Defendant's favor.  Id.  The court reversed the trial court and remanded the case for entry of judgment in favor of Defendant.  Id.

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1 comment:

  1. This is a case of a plaintiff jumping the gun and losing in court. If the plaintiff worked for 15 years as a service repairmen, he could have before he filed a suit gotten one of his colleagues to check the tire before going to court. So now that he lost the damages award, he has to deal with court costs. A plaintiff before going to court over product defects should always make the effort to double check the defective product.