We were curious what happened to the case of Rose Marie Munoz v. Ford, the $29 million verdict against an auto manufacturer when a 10-year-old recalled Firestone tire failed and a passenger who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt was ejected. Our original post had provoked a response from the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Roger S. Braugh, Jr.
Rose Marie Munoz wasn’t wearing her seatbelt in 2002 when the spare tire on the 1992 Mazda Navajo (a rebadged Ford Explorer) failed and driver Derek Saenz rolled over the SUV; the other three occupants of the vehicle were uninjured. Munoz was ejected and temporarily paralyzed, has lost use of her right hand, and now walks with a limp. A Nueces County, Texas jury held Ford 75% (and Mazda another 10%) responsible for $29 million in damages, on the grounds that Ford should have done more to warn consumers about the dangers of ten-year-old tires—even though the tires in question were the notorious Bridgestone/Firestone tires that had actually been recalled in 2000, but had been left on the SUV. Jurors said they were influenced by the fact that Ford has since added a warning in their owners’ manual about replacing tires more than six years old. Firestone settled the case, allowing the plaintiffs to focus blame on Ford at trial. Ford blames the accident on driver error, and will appeal. (Sean M. Wood, “Ford hit with big judgment in Nueces”, San Antonio Express-News, Jan. 28; Karen Lundegaard, “Texas Jury Slaps Ford With $29 Million Verdict”, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 27; AP, Jan. 27; plaintiffs’ lawyer press release).
Alas, I could find no record of an appeal, which suggests that Ford was pressured into settling. (I’m happy to be corrected by our Texas readers if I’ve searched the databases wrong.) But I learned something else about the case that we hadn’t previously commented on. I found the accident report (page 30-31 of this PDF). The accident occurred in Atascosa County, just south of Bexar County, the home of San Antonio, where the driver and the plaintiff were from. But the lawsuit was brought in Neuces County in Corpus Christi–117 miles away from the accident, and further from San Antonio. Add forum shopping to the many sins of this litigation.