Diaz v. Phoenix Lubrication Service (CA1 5/4/10)

This case discusses the issue of duty.

Plaintiff had his oil changed at Defendant’s Jiffy Lube store. A few weeks later he crashed, allegedly because of worn tires. He sued the car people and the tire people, one of whom noticed Jiffy-Lube as a non-party at fault. Plaintiff moved to strike the notice, contending that Jiffy Lube had no duty, but lost and added it as a defendant. He argued that when it serviced his car Jiffy Lube should have noticed, and warned him of, the worn tires .

The trial court granted summary judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Duty, the court says citing the Supreme Court’s 2007 Gipson decision, depends on the relationship between the parties and on public policy.

The only relationship between these parties was contractual. The court cites a couple recent economic-loss-doctrine cases for the idea that the contract determines the boundaries of liability.  The contract said nothing about looking for tire wear. The fact that the technician could see the tires didn’t imply a obligation to inspect them, even though this court had said something mostly to the contrary in an older case named Reader. The Court of Appeals points out that that opinion had been vacated and doesn’t point out that that had been on other grounds; the real problem is that the Court of Appeals had pretty much pulled that part of Reader out of its hat. But the court adds that Reader isn’t on point anyway since it had to do with a dealer’s work under a manufacturer’s warranty.

As to public policy, the policy is that everyone has a duty to avoid creating an unreasonable risk of harm and those who do create a risk of harm have a duty to use due care. But Jiffy Lube didn’t create the risk of harm. Duty should be limited by the scope of the actual undertaking.

Finally, Plaintiff argued that there was an industry standard to check the tires. But duty is defined by law, not by expert testimony; industry standards relate to when duty is breached but cannot create it.