Midwestern V.W. Corp. v. Ringley
503 S.W.2d 745 (Ky. 1973)

Facts:

  • Wanda Ringley purchased a new Volkswagen from Kelly Vance Motors.
  • Shortly after, on three separate occasions, while applying the brakes to come to an abrupt stop, the automobile pulled to the right.
  • Each time, she returned it to Kelly Vance Motors and was advised that it had been repaired.
  • Eight days after picking up the automobile for the third time, Wanda undertook to pass an automobile on a wet road; and, according to Wanda, she observed a pool of water in the road ahead of her. She testified that she applied the brakes, that the right-front wheel grabbed sending her automobile into a spin and out of control. The automobile struck a telephone pole resulting in severe personal injuries.
  • She then brought a products liability suit.
    • According to her experts, the right-front brake drum was “out of round” to a degree exceeding factory specifications.
    • They testified that this was a defect in the manufacturing process.

History:
Circuit Court jury awarded Wanda damages for personal injuries and property damage.

Issue:
Whether there was evidence in the record to establish that the manufacturing defect, namely, the right front brake drum being “out of round,” was the probable cause of the accident, as opposed to being one possible cause among a number of possibilities.

Holding:
No. Case reversed.

Reasoning:

  • It is incumbent on the plaintiff to introduce evidence that will support a reasonable inference that the defect was the “probable” cause of the accident as distinguished from a “possible” cause among other possibilities.
  • Here:
    • None of Wanda’s expert witnesses testified that the out of round brake drum probably caused the automobile to pull to one side at the time of the accident. The testimony was simply that an out of round brake drum was dangerous and would cause the automobile to pull when the brakes were applied.
    • Additionally, there were numerous other conditions that could cause the automobile to pull when the brakes were applied:
      • Dirt and dust in the left brake lining would cause the automobile to pull to the right;
      • Testimony that the brake drums were blown out when the automobile was taken to Kelly Vance Motors;
      • Water in the left brake lining would cause the automobile to pull to the right;
      • That improper adjustment of the right-front brake drum would cause the automobile to pull to the right;
      • An examination of the right-front brake after the accident revealed that it was adjusted too tightly;
      • Improper tire pressure and improper alignment could cause pulling.

      In short, proof of a defect without proof of probable causation is insufficient to reach the jury.

Rule: It is incumbent on the plaintiff to introduce evidence that will support a reasonable inference that the defect was the “probable” cause of the accident as distinguished from a “possible” cause among other possibilities.