Sacramento 3rd District Court of Appeals Holds Windshield Manufacturer Potentially Liable for Truck Driver's Death
April 1, 2013

by Jenna Reed,

Though the damage and fatal injury to a truck driver was caused by a teenager throwing a rock onto his windshield from a freeway overpass, the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento, Calif., ruled Friday that a windshield manufacturer could still be held liable for money damages to compensate the driver's widow and sent the case back to trial. In essence, the split three-justice panel concluded that the windshield should have been able to withstand the 2.5-lb piece of concrete even though it was manufactured to meet Federal Motor Safety Standards.

Under appeal was whether the judge had properly instructed the jury in regards to the foreseeability of such an event occurring with the windshield. The plaintiff argued the truck company should have foreseen a potential rock penetration to the windshield and ensured the glass could withstand it.

Back in 1997, a teenager threw a chunk of concrete weighing about 2.5 lbs at a Navistar tractor pulling two trailers driven by William Collins. According to court documents, the rock penetrated the windshield, hit Collins in the forehead and caused severe brain injuries. The teenager, Joshua Daniel, was subsequently convicted of three counts of assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 12 years in prison. After the trial, Barbara Collins, the widow, brought suit against Navistar (previously International Truck and Engine Corp.) for products' liability, alleging the windshield was defective because it failed to keep the thrown rock from penetrating. The company argued it has not previously heard of glass-plastic and had no notice of prior incidents where projectiles penetrated windshields on its trucks. It also pointed out that the windshield was not original equipment. It had been replaced. The trial court granted Navistar's motion for summary adjudication.

In response, Collins took the case to the Third Circuit Court of Appeal in Sacramento. Speaking for the two judges that reversed the prior court's decision, Judge Lauren Thomasson wrote, "The trial court erred in instructing that a heightened foreseeability was required and the error was prejudicial because the special verdict form precluded the jury from considering whether the risk of chunks of concrete hitting the truck's windshield was a reasonably foreseeable road hazard. We accept Navistar's concession that federal law is not preemptive on the issue of whether glass-plastic would have been a safer design for the windshield. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for a new trial."

The judge went on to write, "we concluded Barbara was entitled to introduce evidence that chunks of concrete hitting truck windshields was not an unforeseeably rare occurrence."

Later, the court's statement says, "The product in this case failed to provide exactly the protection for which it was designed, namely to shield a driver of the truck from road hazards."

A spokesperson at Navistar said she could not offer any additional information regarding the auto glass manufacturer nor the case. The company does not comment on pending litigation.

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