On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 192 N.J. Super. 251 (1983).
For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Schreiber, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern and Garibaldi. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Schreiber, J.
This failure-to-warn product liability case presents for consideration the effect of a foreseeable user's knowledge of a danger on a manufacturer's responsibility to distribute a product free from defect. Does that knowledge eliminate any duty to warn? Or is it a link to be considered on whether the failure to warn was a substantial factor in causing the accident and injuries?
Plaintiff Armando Campos*fn1 was born and raised in Portugal. He emigrated to this country in 1971. Shortly after his arrival in the United States he obtained a job with Theurer Atlantic, Inc. (Theurer), a manufacturer of truck trailers.
In connection with its trailer operation Theurer placed new truck tires on rims before their installation on the trailers. Plaintiff's work was to assemble the tires. This involved placing a tire containing an inner tube on a three-piece rim assembly, putting the assembled tire into a steel safety cage designed to prevent injuries in case the assembled parts separated under pressure, and then inserting air into the tire by inflating the tube inside it. He generally worked a five-day, forty-hour week, and assembled about eight tires an hour. Plaintiff's employment continued in this manner until the accident on November 1, 1978.
About 9:30 a.m. on that day, plaintiff was readying a new Dunlop tire to be mounted on a trailer. He assembled the three-piece rim and tire, placed the tire in the cage, and clamped the air pressure hose into place so that air was being forced into the tire. He then noticed that a locking element on the rim components was opening. Fearing that there would "be a very big accident" if the pieces separated under pressure, he immediately tried to disengage the hose. He explained, "Because if I didn't, it could kill me and kill everybody that was around
there." As he reached into the cage, the assembly exploded and plaintiff was severely injured.
Defendant, Firestone Tire & Rubber Company, had manufactured the rim assembly. We were advised at oral argument that Theurer, not defendant, had made the protective cage. Defendant had delivered manuals describing the proper method of preparing the tire to its customers, including Theurer. Defendant had also given Theurer a large chart prepared by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the United States Department of Transportation. That chart was kept on the wall at the Theurer shop and contained instructions on safety precautions, including the following advice: "ALWAYS INFLATE TIRE IN SAFETY CAGE OR USE A PORTABLE LOCK RING GUARD. USE A CLIP-ON TYPE AIR CHUCK*fn2 WITH REMOTE VALVE SO THAT OPERATOR CAN STAND CLEAR DURING TIRE INFLATION." However, Campos could not read or write Portuguese or English and these written warnings were therefore ineffective.
In addition to the written instructions, plaintiff had received some oral instructions from his supervisor. He had been told that a truck tire was to be placed in the cage before inflating it. Further, he had had a similar accident in July, 1972, when, to prevent a mishap, he had inserted his hand into the protective cage while air was being blown into the tire. The injuries that he received then were less severe than in this accident.
Plaintiff proceeded against defendant, Firestone Tire & Rubber Company, on two strict liability theories, improper design and failure to warn. His contention that the rim had been improperly designed because it should have consisted of one rather than three pieces was rejected by the jury. His second claim, which was accepted by the jury, was that defendant had
not adequately warned him of the danger and that that failure to warn was a proximate cause of his injury. The jury returned a verdict of $255,000.
Defendant appealed. A divided Appellate Division reversed and entered judgment for the defendant. See 192 N.J. Super. 251 (1983). This Court granted plaintiff's ...