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Healey v. Trodd

Decided: January 25, 1940.

MARY C. HEALEY ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
PATRICK TRODD, DEFENDANT, AND C.F. MUELLER COMPANY, A CORPORATION, ETC., AND CONTINENTAL CAN COMPANY, INC., A CORPORATION, ETC., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



On appeal from a judgment of the Supreme Court, whose opinion is reported in 122 N.J.L. 603.

For the appellant Continental Can Company, Inc., Milton, McNulty & Augelli.

For the appellant C.F. Mueller Company, Burnett & Trelease.

For the respondents, William T. Cahill, Edward A. Markley, James B. Emory and Alfred B. Van Houten.

Donges

The opinion of the court was delivered by

DONGES, J. Appellants bring up for review the judgment of the Supreme Court affirming a judgment of the Hudson County Court of Common Pleas entered, after a jury verdict, in favor of plaintiffs-respondents and against both defendants-appellants.

The facts are stated at length in the opinion of the Supreme Court, reported at 122 N.J.L. 603, and need not be repeated here.

The Mueller Company urges that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur was not applicable to it and that it was error for the trial court to charge as it did. We conclude that the Supreme Court was correct in its conclusions in this regard, and that the judgment as to the C.F. Mueller Company, a corporation of the State of New Jersey, should be affirmed.

Appellant Continental Can Company argues several points. The first is that it was error to refuse a nonsuit or directed verdict in its favor. It is said that the Can Company owed no duty to the plaintiff, but it seems clear that it owed the duty to use reasonable care in the manufacture of the can. What does this duty impose upon appellant in this case? If the can had a jagged edge which cut plaintiff, or, if it had broken in her hand under ordinary handling, it might be said that negligence had been shown in manufacture, that is, neglect in the duty owed the ultimate purchaser, because it must be assumed that defendant would know the can should be safe for such handling. The testimony leaves no doubt that the can was adequate as a container of the product to be placed therein, under ordinary handling. Indeed, there is no testimony to the contrary. The testimony is that the can

did not resist the unusual pressure to which it was subjected when heated, due, plaintiff's expert said, to improper filling. There is nothing in the testimony to connect the Can Company with the practice of heating cans unopened -- a practice which admittedly produced pressure within the can. The directions in this regard were printed upon the Mueller Company's label and were placed upon the can by that defendant. There is nothing to show that the Can Company approved this practice, or agreed to make a can that would withstand such use, or, in fact, that it knew of it. Plaintiff's expert testified that in his opinion the pressure within the can when it burst was at least forty pounds to the square inch, and there is no testimony which would justify a finding that there was any duty on the Can Company to manufacture a can that would withstand a pressure in excess of that figure. It certainly cannot be charged with constructive or actual knowledge that a can made for the packing of spaghetti would be subjected to such pressure.

It would appear, therefore, that the Can Company has not been shown to have failed in its duty to exercise reasonable care to produce a can fit and safe for ordinary use. The burden was upon plaintiffs to establish a failure in this regard. The trial court tried the case upon the theory that res ipsa loquitur did not apply to the Can Company, under the proofs, and the Supreme Court adopted that view, with which view we agree. We conclude, therefore, that the plaintiffs did not ...


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