Yesterday the California Supreme Court denied the petition for review in Collins v. Navistar, Inc. The case started after a delinquent teenager hurled rocks off of an overpass at traffic below on an interstate highway. One 2.5 pound rock broke through a truck’s windshield, hitting the driver in the head, causing him to crash, ultimately sustaining injuries that killed him. The young man was prosecuted and jailed. The driver’s family then sued the city for having an overpass from which people could throw objects at traffic, and the truck manufacturer for not designing a more impenetrable windshield.
Traditionally, manufacturers are not usually liable for third-party criminal activities. However, in Navistar, a California appellate court said that it does not matter whether harm is caused by a criminal. The court reasoned that since rocks sometimes hit windshields, Navistar could be held liable for the harm caused when the criminal hurled a rock at the plaintiff’s truck. PLF submitted a letter brief, as a friend of the court, asking the California Supreme Court to review the case. PLF explained the consequences of allowing the appellate court’s decision to stand: Manufacturer’s liability costs will increase, which will likely raise prices and decrease consumer options. And the increased liability will likely not improve public safety since criminal activities are difficult to predict and are specifically designed to cause harm, no matter what safety measures manufacturers employ.