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Falkenbury v. Elder Cadillac





Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. Thomas P. O'Donnell, Judge, presiding.


Defendants, Elder Cadillac and General Motors Corporation, appeal from the judgment of the circuit court of St. Clair County, entered on a jury verdict, awarding plaintiff, Michael W. Falkenbury, $125,000 in this products liability action. Defendants appeal, alleging, inter alia, that, as a matter of law, the product in question was not unreasonably dangerous.

On June 16, 1977, plaintiff, a dental technologist, purchased a new Cadillac Coupe de Ville from Elder Cadillac, located in Belleville, Illinois, which had optional equipment including spoked wire wheel covers. A wire wheel cover consists of a disc proper with an outer row of long spokes and an inner row of shorter spokes. The spokes, positioned in the front of the wheel cover, crisscross and fit into slots along the circumference of the disc proper. In the center of the disc there is a hole, several inches in diameter, over which a center crest piece bearing the Cadillac emblem is placed. On the back of the wheel cover there is a flat, round retainer disc plate which has a hole corresponding to the hole on the disc proper. There are five bolts on the wheel cover which secure the crest piece and the retainer disc.

In the three weeks following the purchase of the automobile, plaintiff noticed several minor problems, including a noise in the left rear wheel which he described as a "clicking" sound. On July 6, 1977, plaintiff brought the automobile to Elder to have warranty service performed and detailed a list of problems, including the noise in the left rear wheel.

Carl Newson, service manager at Elder, testifying as a section 60 witness, stated that, in response to the complaint concerning the left rear wheel, the exhaust system was aligned and a "general tightening" was performed. Newson further testified that there was no procedure for tightening the spokes on the wire wheel cover. On direct examination, Newson stated that plaintiff never complained to him concerning the wire wheel covers on his automobile.

Plaintiff testified that, when he picked up his car after having service performed, the mechanic indicated that the problems had been solved; however, the noise emanating from the left rear wheel persisted. Plaintiff further testified that he took the car in for repairs again and was informed that the service department would order a repair kit for the spoked wire wheel covers. Plaintiff telephoned Elder on several occasions, but was told the repair kit was not in stock. Newson did not recall any conversations with plaintiff concerning a wire wheel cover repair kit or the ordering of such.

On August 18, 1977, plaintiff, because of the persistent noise in the left rear wheel, endeavored to fix the wheel himself. After first removing the wheel cover from the car, plaintiff loosened the five bolts and removed the centerpiece which bears the Cadillac emblem. This created a hole that goes all the way through the wheel. Plaintiff looked inside the wheel, saw two spokes out of their holes, reached in and pushed them into their respective slots along the circumference of the disc proper. Plaintiff testified that at this point "my hand slipped or something slipped here and my hand went down into the side of that disc." This incident caused plaintiff to cut his hand, which is the complained of injury in the instant case. The cut was approximately 1 1/2 inches long and 1/4 inch deep, running from the base of the thumb toward the back of the hand.

Plaintiff filed this strict liability action for personal injuries suffered to his hand and wrist. In his second amended complaint, plaintiff alleged that the wire wheel cover was unreasonably dangerous in one or more of the following ways:

"(a) It contained in and around the access area sharp and protruding edges;

(b) Protruding edges around the access area were not dulled, blunted, guarded or otherwise protected;

(c) No warning accompanied said product to warn of hazard involved;

(d) No instructions were provided with respect to the care, maintenance or use of said product."

Plaintiff further alleged that as a "direct and proximate result of the foregoing unreasonably dangerous and/or defective conditions," he suffered personal injuries to his right hand, and the tendons and nerves therein, that he was unable to engage in his usual professional duties to the extent he could prior to the occurrence, and that this caused him economic damage.

Dr. Dale Rosenberg, a plastic surgeon and the treating physician, testified as to the nature of plaintiff's injury. Rosenberg testified that the cut caused tendon and nerve damage and to cause such injuries the cut would have to be down to the bone on the wrist. Rosenberg further testified that he was informed plaintiff had suffered the injury from being cut on a hubcap and was of the opinion that such a laceration could have been caused by a sharp metal edge. Plaintiff's wrist was placed in a plaster cast for approximately four weeks. Plaintiff testified that after the cast was removed he experienced numbness in his thumb and a loss of dexterity that ...

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