Another Florida driver falls asleep

Amazingly, our Nov. 17 report wasn’t even the first time this year a Florida jury held Ford liable for millions because a driver fell asleep.

28-year-old Tami Martin was a passenger in her mother’s Ford Aerostar, but her mother fell asleep at the wheel and plowed into the back of an ambulance. The mother walked away from the accident, but Martin was reclining in her seat with her feet against the dashboard. So, though the airbag deployed, it did not provide protection. Martin jackknifed over the seatbelt, damaging her vertebrae and spinal cord, leaving her a paraplegic. Martin sued Ford for not putting the “Do not recline your seat in a moving vehicle” warning more prominently on the windshield visor next to the airbag warnings; Ford had made the warning in the owner’s manual, but Martin felt that insufficient because she didn’t read the manual. (Of course, if every potentially fatal injury in the owner’s manual is placed on the windshield visor, then the visor looks like the owner’s manual and doesn’t provide any warning at all.)

A Jacksonville jury has held Ford liable for $16.95 million. You’ll be pleased to know it’s “not about the money,” as supposedly demonstrated by Martin’s willingness to surrender half her award if Ford follows Martin’s preferences about warnings (which, of course, will lead to other lawsuits). The offer is considerably less generous than it sounds if Martin’s attorney, Robert Langdon, thinks she has a substantial chance of losing on the appeal Ford plans to take (plaintiffs frequently settle for a fraction of a verdict for precisely this reason), but at least one press account breathlessly and gullibly reports it as generous. (News4Jax, “Jacksonville Jury Awards $17 Million in Reclining Seat Case”, Nov. 18; Kyle Meenan, “Lawsuit Winner May Reject Millions”, First Coast News, Oct. 24; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial, “Driving & sleeping”, Oct. 29). Special quote for H.M.D.: “‘I knew God would use me to reach other people,’ Martin said.” Overlawyered is proud to assist in God’s mission: read your owner’s manual, don’t recline your seat while in a moving vehicle, and don’t fall asleep while driving.

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