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How a 1909 Buick Runabout Helped Shape U.S. Law


Vintage Car

When a car’s faulty design leads to a series of accidents, consumers know they can go to court with some expectation of receiving reparations for their injuries.


It wasn’t always this way…

Many of our current consumer rights can be traced back to precedent-setting cases – many that are decades old.

Take the case of the 1909 Buick Runabout and the faulty wheel.

Donald C. MacPherson, a stonecutter from New York, was out enjoying his 1909 Buick Runabout in the early 1900s when the car suddenly collapsed – the result of a faulty wooden wheel.  MacPherson was thrown from the car and injured.

Understandably, MacPherson took Buick to court over his injuries (Macpherson v. Buick Motor Co.).

Buick answered the charges by saying MacPherson had purchased the car from a dealer – not from Buick – and therefore Buick bore no responsibility for his injuries.

So here was the question… Did Buick have a responsibility to anyone but the immediate purchaser, who was, in this case, a Buick dealer?

Let’s see what the courts decided…

Here were the facts:

Buick did make the car.  They, in turn, sold it to a dealer.  The dealer sold it to MacPherson.  Sometime later the wheel failed.

During court proceedings, it was acknowledged that Buick had not made the wheel – but instead had purchased it from a reliable manufacturer.  It was also determined that Buick could have easily discovered the faulty part with simple inspection – an inspection that was never done.

So how did the court rule?

The Court decided that Buick was not absolved of its obligation to inspect the wheels on the vehicle simply because it bought the wheels from a “reputable” manufacturer. On the concept that the more probable the danger, the greater the need of caution, the court also found that as the manufacturer of the car, Buick was responsible for the finished product and could not put cars on the market without subjecting the parts of its car to ordinary safety tests.

In the end, while some may claim that our legal system (and tort law in particular) places undue burdens on corporations, this landmark case helped establish the rights of consumers by advancing the idea that corporations are, in fact, responsible for the safety of their products.

The cars we drive and the products we use today are safer because of it.

If you or a loved one has been injured by a defective or dangerous product, call a qualified Connecticut product liability lawyer. A knowledgeable product liability attorney can help to ensure that your rights are protected.  What’s more, our product liability lawyers have received local and national recognition for our handling of cases like these.

We have a great team of legal experts dedicated to product liability cases in Connecticut. Please contact us if we can help you.

The consultation is free, and there is no obligation of any kind.

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