MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co.
, 217 N.Y. 382, 111 N.E. 1050 (1916) is the famous New York Court of Appeals
opinion by Judge Benjamin N. Cardozo
which removed privity
from duty in negligence
, Donald C. MacPherson, was injured when one of the wooden wheels of his automobile crumbled. The defendant
, Buick Motor Company
, had manufactured the vehicle, but not the wheel, which had been manufactured by another party and installed by defendant. It was conceded that the defective wheel could have been discovered upon inspection. The defendant denied liability because the plaintiff had purchased the automobile from a dealer, not directly from the defendant.
Opinion of the Court
In the earlier precedent duty was imposed on defendants by voluntary contract via privity
as in the English case
of Winterbottom v. Wright
, This case brought products injuries into the modern tort law theory of a duty that all citizens owe each other by virtue of a defendant's relationship to the plaintiff. This is the precursor rule for product liability
According to Professors John Goldberg of Vanderbilt University Law School and Benjamin Zipursky of Fordham Law, by holding that the defendant manufacturer owed a duty of care to the ultimate purchaser despite the absence of privity - it didn't remove duty of care from the law of torts but re-affirmed duty. Zipursky and Goldberg argue that scholars like William Prosser misconstrued Judge Cardozo into an economist who only cared about efficiency in the tort law in the spirit of Judge Guido Calabresi's book the Cost of Accidents.