Procedural Posture

Procedural Posture

Plaintiffs, widow and minor child, challenged an order from the Superior Court of Riverside County (California) granting summary judgment in favor of defendants, equipment owner and manufacturer, on plaintiffs’ strict products liability theory in a wrongful death action and petitioned for a writ of mandate to vacate that order.

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Overview

Decedent was killed while transporting equipment produced by defendant manufacturer and leased to decedent’s employer by defendant equipment owner. Plaintiffs, widow and minor child, filed a wrongful death action based on negligence, strict products liability, and breach of warranty, but the trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the strict liability count. The court granted plaintiffs’ petition for a writ of mandate directing the superior court to vacate its order, holding that plaintiffs in a wrongful death action could use strict products liability as a theory of recovery under Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 377. The court found that the doctrine of strict products liability was based on tortious conduct and did involve fault or wrongfulness. A review of the public policies behind the wrongful death act led the court to conclude that the term “wrongful act” as used in Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 377 meant any tortious act, including strict products liability. The court also found that the statutory construction doctrine of ejusdem generis permitted this interpretation by reconciling the specific word “neglect” and general words “wrongful act” in the statute.

Outcome

The court granted petition of plaintiffs, widow and minor child goldenslot, for writ of mandate vacating the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants, equipment owner and manufacturer, on strict products liability theory in a wrongful death action because plaintiffs in a wrongful death action could use strict products liability as a theory of recovery. The court ordered the superior court to deny defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

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