William F. Collins was driving a big rig truck on Interstate Highway 5 in Stockton when the windshield was struck by a piece of concrete weighing about two and a half pounds. Joshua Daniel had thrown the rock hard at the vehicle from an overpass. The rock broke through the windshield and struck Mr. Collins on the forehead, leaving him with severe brain injuries. Daniel was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Mr. Collins subsequently sued Navistar, Inc., the manufacturer of the truck, on the basis that the windshield ought to have been capable of withstanding common road hazards, such as incoming projectiles.
Is a third party crime foreseeable?
One of the issues considered by the California Court of Appeals was whether the criminal nature of Daniel’s rock throwing affects Navistar’s liability or negates its duty to design the windshield to withstand reasonably foreseeable risks. One of the fundamental principles of strict products liability is that the manufacturer is only responsible for harm caused by a defect in the design or manufacturing process if the product is being used in a reasonably foreseeable way. Navistar argued that a manufacturer is not expected to anticipate criminal acts carried out by third parties when designing its product, as such occurrences are not foreseeable.
Judge Hoch ruled that the manufacturer of a windshield is expected to design the product to withstand common road hazards, such as wind and road debris. It makes no difference whether such debris strikes the windshield from falling off a passing gravel truck or the criminal act of another person. As long as the plaintiff could show that a rock of the size that struck the truck’s windshield is foreseeable, the fact that it was thrown by a third party in a criminal act does not negate Navistar’s liability.