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Sanner v. Ford Motor Co.

Decided: August 6, 1976.

MICHAEL J. SANNER ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY ET AL., DEFENDANTS



Longhi, J.c.c., Temporarily Assigned.

Longhi

This matter comes before the Court on defendant Ford Motor Company's motion for summary judgment. The material facts are not in dispute.

On August 7, 1973 plaintiff Michael J. Sanner was a passenger in an Army vehicle, commonly referred to as a jeep, which was struck in the right rear by a vehicle owned and operated by John E. Dunphey. The jeep was manufactured by defendant Ford Motor Company. Plaintiff alleges that the accident was caused by the negligence of defendant Dunphey and that the jeep was negligently designed and manufactured without a safety belt, roll bar or restraint, and that this caused the damages he alleges.

The jeep in which plaintiff was riding did not overturn in the accident but he was thrown out of it. Although plaintiff alleges that the vehicle should have had a roll bar, the report of his expert states that a roll bar would not have contributed anything under the circumstances of this accident. Thus, the viable allegations of negligence against defendant Ford are that the jeep should have had seat belts.

The jeep in question was assembled in 1968. It is officially designated as an M151A1 1/4-ton, four-wheel drive utility truck. The vehicle must be capable of performing various military functions, including, but not limited to, serving as (a) a cargo and personnel carrier, (b) battlefield ambulance, (c) weapons platform with a 106-mm. recoiless rifle, and (d) communication vehicle. It is sold directly to the armed forces of the United States in conformity with contractual specifications which did not include the installation of seat belts, roll bars or side doors.

In 1964 the United States Army requested Ford to determine the feasibility of designing seat belts for installation in the M151A1. Such a design was developed by Ford and submitted to the United States Army for acceptance

or rejection, which rested solely with the Army, as they could not be installed without prior approval of the Army.

All vehicles are manufactured pursuant to supply contracts designated as Invitation Bid and Award with the Army Tank Corps which, in turn, designates the branch of the service by whom the vehicles would be used. Ford did produce a very limited number of jeeps equipped with seat belts for the United States Air Force. These jeeps were produced by virtue of specific contract modifications that changed the specifications of those vehicles so as to include the installation of seat belts in those vehicles only. This was the only contract for the production of any vehicles to include seat belts and these were only vehicles that were to go to the Air Force.

The United States Army did not consider jeeps equipped with seat belts to be acceptable for the intended uses of the vehicle for, but not limited to, the following reasons: (1) when used in certain tactical situations they could compromise the occupants by deterring immediate egress and escape from the vehicle, and (2) there was the probability of greater injuries to belted occupants in a vehicle such as the jeep without roll bars in the event of a roll over, and the installation of a roll bar would interfere with the design and intent of this military tactical vehicle.

It is undisputed that the United States Government procured the production of these vehicles in conformity with its own engineering specifications and submitted these specifications to qualified prospective bidders. Ford was a successful bidder, and the vehicle involved in this accident was manufactured pursuant to a specific contract (DA-20-113-AMC-07507) and in strict compliance with the United States Army plans and specifications.

Defendant presses its motion for summary judgment on the basis that (1) it had no duty to install seat belts or roll bars, (2) plaintiff cannot under the circumstances of this case show a dangerous defect, and (3) Ford is immune from ...


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