Strict Products Liability 1941, Coca-Cola
Escola v. Coca Cola Bottling Co. of Fresno
A brief summary of the facts. In Escola’s (Plaintiff’s) hand, a bottle of Coca-Cola from the Fresno Coca-Cola Bottling Co. (Defendant) exploded. Defendant was found to be entirely responsible.
A synopsis of the Rule of Law. When an article that a manufacturer has placed on the market with the knowledge that it will be used without examination proves to have a flaw that causes human injury, the manufacturer faces absolute culpability.
Facts. Plaintiff worked as a server, and one of her responsibilities was stocking the refrigerator with Coca-Cola bottles. Plaintiff was seriously injured when a bottle exploded in her hand as she was putting it into the refrigerator. Plaintiff sued Defendant, alleging that Defendant was negligent in supplying “bottles containing such beverage that were dangerous.and liable to explode due to excessive pressure of gas or by reason of some flaw in the bottle.” Plaintiff was found guilty by the jury. Defendant filed an appeal.
Issue: Is Defendant completely accountable for failing to examine a Coca-Cola bottle that turns out to have a fault that causes Plaintiff injury?
Held. Yes. The verdict was upheld.
- The majority imputed Defendant’s negligence using the res ipsa loquitur concept. Concurrence. (Justice Traynor) When an article that a manufacturer has placed on the market, knowing that it will be used without examination, proves to have a flaw that causes human injury, the manufacturer bears absolute duty.
- The manufacturer is responsible for any injury caused by an article to anybody who comes into lawful touch with it, regardless of privity of contract. Even if there is no negligence, public policy requires that responsibility be assigned where it will have the greatest impact on reducing the risks to life and health posed by defective items that reach the market.
- Those who are injured as a result of defective items are unprepared for the consequences. The expense of an injury, as well as the loss of time or health, can be a devastating and unnecessary misfortune for the victim, because the risk of injury can be insured by the manufacturer and passed to the general public as a cost of doing business.
- There is no reason why a manufacturer of goods should not be held accountable for its quality regardless of negligence if public policy requires it.
- The manufacturer’s duty to an instant customer harmed by a defective product derives from the implied assurance of safety accompanying the sale, even if there is no proof of negligence. Customers will no longer have to be concerned about merchandise. The manufacturer’s commitment to the consumer must evolve in tandem with their evolving relationship.
Discussion. The majority found that the Defendant’s burden of proof was shifted to him by the inference of negligence under the res ipsa loquitur doctrine. Defendant is strictly accountable to Plaintiff, according to J. Traynor’s concurring opinion. Plaintiff is not required to use the res ipsa loquitur doctrine.
Gladys Escola (1912–2006)
Escola v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co.
Roger Traynor (1900–1983)
The Hot Coffee Case (1994).
The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)