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Ford and the Crystal City sweethearts, cont’d

Auto Connection (Mar. 14, scroll to “Ford Appeals Frontier Justice”) has some new material on the astounding $31 million verdict against Ford from Zavala County, Texas, last discussed in this space Mar. 7. A few snippets:

In the testimony that followed [a Feb. 22 mistrial motion by Ford], it was revealed that not only had [juror Diana] Palacios failed to acknowledge her romantic entanglement [with plaintiff’s attorney Jesse Gamez] during jury selection, but had previously been a client of Gamez in other litigation, had been an aunt by marriage of one of the plaintiffs and indeed had solicited the plaintiffs to sue Ford and Guerrero and hire Gamez as their lawyer….

Incredibly, Ford’s motions were denied, but Juror Palacios was removed.

The next day’s Express-News carried a story about the motions and denials.

But a mysterious man went around to all the distribution points in Crystal City, buying up all the papers before anyone could read them. The San Antonio newspaper management 130 miles away quickly got wind of this, replenished the newspapers and ran an editorial the following day denouncing the act as an attempt to keep Crystal Citians from learning of their local conflicts of interest. The miscreant was never identified.

The trial went on, plaintiffs maintaining that Ford was negligent, because if the Explorer had only been equipped with a type of laminated side glass used by less than one percent of the world’s vehicles, the ejections and injuries would not have occurred.

Ford plans an appeal. (More: May 13, May 16, May 29)

February 10 roundup

  • Feds arrest almost the entire elected leadership of Crystal City, Texas, population 7,000, in corruption probe [New York Daily News] In 2005 we noted, emerging from that little town where everyone seemed to know everyone else, a highly curious $31 million verdict against Ford Motor;
  • Crane collapse chasing in NYC: Eric Turkewitz shines a spotlight on the ethical debris;
  • “The Eight Weirdest People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Sued” [Daily Caller slideshow, I get a mention]
  • A trademark tale: departing Yosemite concessionaire can take historic place names when it goes [David Post, Coyote with a somewhat different view]
  • “Legal action against soldiers ‘could undermine Britain on the battlefield’ warns chief of general staff” [Con Coughlin, Telegraph]
  • Human subjects research/Institutional Review Boards: “The Obama administration is quietly trying to make it harder to study public officials” [Michelle Hackman, Vox]
  • Comedians, start your engines: lawyer who sued over intimate male enhancement promotion now sues over dating service promotion [New Jersey Civil Justice Institute]

Update: court won’t upset Ford sweetheart verdict

Zavala County, Texas: Judge Amado Abascal of the 365th District Court has refused Ford Motor Company’s request for a new trial in that very curious $31-million-verdict case in which Ford alleges that juror Diana Palacios, city manager of Crystal City, turned out to be romantically involved with one of the plaintiff’s lawyers suing Ford, Jesse Gamez, and even “allegedly helped Gamez sign up three of the victims as clients in the lawsuit against Ford”. Further tidbit from the new coverage: Palacios is said to work as a jury consultant. See Mar. 7, Mar. 22, and, on other issues raised by the case, May 13 and May 16. (Tresa Baldas, “A Small Town’s Big Verdict Leads to Ugly Charges”, National Law Journal, May 27).

Ford’s $31 million sweetheart verdict

The famously pro-plaintiff jurisdiction of Zavala County, Texas once again lived up to its reputation the other day when one of its juries returned a $31 million verdict against the Ford Motor Co. in the case of the rollover of a 2000 Explorer which killed two occupants and injured two others. Legal commentators around the web are abuzz about the most remarkable angle of the story, namely that until deep into the trial Ford did not learn that one of the jurors, Crystal City city manager Diana Palacios, was the girlfriend of Jesse Gamez, one of the lawyers on the team of plaintiff’s attorneys headed by Houston’s Mikal Watts. Ford also presented evidence that Palacios, incredibly, had actually solicited two of the crash victims for her boyfriend to represent. Nonetheless, Judge Amado Abascal refused to declare a mistrial, instead dismissing Palacios from the jury and issuing a supposedly curative instruction to the remaining jurors. David Bernstein, Tom Kirkendall and John Steele comment. (John MacCormack, “Juror’s relationship with lawyer stalls Ford trial”, San Antonio Express-News, Feb. 23). (Addendum: one of John Steele’s readers has drawn his attention to this 1997 Texas Supreme Court opinion which co-stars the very same Mr. Gamez and Ms. Palacios in a Norplant case — very curious stuff.)

The other issues raised by the verdict, however, deserve attention as well. The accident was caused by the speeding of the vehicle’s driver, and none of the four occupants was wearing a seat belt; all were ejected. Attorney Watts (Apr. 12-14, 2002) advanced the theory that the injuries were Ford’s fault because it should have used laminated instead of conventional glass in the side windows as a sort of substitute restraint system. (John MacCormack, “Zavala jurors hit Ford for $28 million”, San Antonio Express-News, Mar. 2). Notes the Detroit News:

Ford said laminated glass wouldn’t have kept the women from being ejected and was hardly ever used in side windows when the vehicle was made.

“At that time, 99.9 percent of all vehicles made by all manufacturers, through the 2000 model year, had the kind of tempered glass used in this vehicle,” Vokes said. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn’t require laminated glass in side windows, she said.

(“Explorer suit costs Ford $31 million”, Detroit News, Mar. 3) AutoBlog has a short write-up with a good comments section; note in particular comment #22, on one possible safety advantage of not using laminated glass on cars’ sides. More: Mar. 22, May 13, May 16, May 29.