Posts Tagged ‘Ford Motor’

Update: Branham v. Ford

In 2006, I wrote:

In May 2001, Cheryl Jane Hale was driving four children to a sleepover in her 1987 Ford Bronco. She didn’t bother to have the children wear their seat belts, so, when she took her eyes off the road to argue with the backseat passengers, and thus drove off the road and flipped the car, 12-year-old Jesse Branham was thrown from the car and suffered brain damage. A jury in Hampton County, South Carolina (the second jury to be impaneled—the first one was dismissed in a mistrial when it was discovered after two weeks of trial that five of the jurors were former clients of Branham’s lawyers) decided that this was only 45% Hale’s fault, held Ford 55% responsible, which puts Ford entirely on the hook for $31 million in damages.

On Monday, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed because of prejudicial closing arguments that relied heavily on inadmissible evidence. More importantly for lawyers practicing in South Carolina, the Court adopted “the risk-utility test with its requirement of showing a feasible alternative design.”

How bad of a judicial hellhole is Hampton County? Though Hale was a co-defendant, she cooperated with the plaintiffs throughout the trial in their case against Ford, even sitting at the plaintiffs’ table; but because the judge classified Hale as a co-defendant, it meant that Hale got half of the peremptory challenges of the “defense.” More from Comer; no press coverage that I’ve seen yet. (cross-posted from Point of Law)

March 16 roundup

  • Are you a member of Tyson chicken or H&R Block Express IRA class action settlements?
  • Jim Copland on Harry Reid and the trial bar. [NRO]
  • Jim Copland on the Ground Zero settlement, which may pay lawyers $200 million—but the judge plans fee scrutiny. [NY Post; NY Daily News]
  • Kevin LaCroix interviews the Circle of Greed authors. [D&O Diary]
  • Judgeships: Rhode Island lead paint trial lawyer in despite mediocre rating, but Sri Srinivasan out because of his clients—not Al Qaeda, but, heaven forfend, eeeevil corporations like Hertz.
  • There’s no evidence that workers on automotive brakes (which sometimes contain asbestos) get mesothelioma at a greater rate than the rest of the population, but auto companies still get sued over it. Ford fought one in Madison County, rather than settle, and won. [Madison County Record]
  • Overview of defensive medicine at work. [AP]
  • Pantsless Rielle Hunter on John Edwards: “He’s very honest and truthful.” [GQ]

Update: South Carolina $18M sudden acceleration verdict reversed

And in timely news, a specious $18M sudden acceleration verdict (see our August 2006 coverage) was unanimously reversed by the South Carolina Supreme Court after they threw out junk-science testimony theorizing that electromagnetic interference with the cruise control caused the sudden acceleration. Passengers in the crash that wore their seatbelts were uninjured, but the unbelted driver was paralyzed. The plaintiff has the option of a new trial. (Sonya Watson v. Ford Motor Company, h/t L Nettles comment).

Another burden for legacy automakers

State laws providing a kind of tenure protection for no-longer-needed car dealers are among the reasons it can be extremely expensive to close down a failing marque. General Motors, which closed Oldsmobile eight years ago, “spent more than five years battling dealer lawsuits” despite having set aside almost $1 billion to handle the transition, and Ford may face similar challenges if it tries to shutter its ailing Mercury line. (Martin Zimmerman, “Mercury may be coming to the end of the road”, Los Angeles Times, May 10). Earlier: Oct. 5, 2006. For more see this 2001 speech by FTC commissioner Thomas Leary, and this article by Missouri lawyer Gene Brockland on the federal Auto Dealers’ Day in Court Act, which is exceeded in stringency by some of its counterpart laws at the state level.

Jury not asked to blame driver, does so anyway

“A Washington state woman who sued Ford Motor over her injuries in an SUV rollover accident isn’t exactly thrilled that a jury cleared the automaker — and awarded her $6 million in damages against her sister, who was the driver of the vehicle. … The federal jury in Spokane, Wash., found Marla Bear 100 percent at fault for losing control of the SUV, in which her younger sister was a passenger. According to trial testimony, the car swerved when she looked over her shoulder to see if Crystal had her seat belt attached.” Ford’s own attorney, whether for tactical reasons of sympathy or otherwise, had advised the jury against blaming the sister. (Matthew Heller, OnPoint News, Mar. 20) (via The Briefcase).

March 21 roundup

Updates galore:

Buell-Wilson v. Ford redux

In February of last year, I wrote at length about an appalling jury verdict (June 2004) and disingenuous appellate decision in an SUV rollover case:

It went generally unnoticed last November when the California Supreme Court refused to review an intermediate court’s decision in Buell-Wilson v. Ford Motor Co. But then again, it went generally unnoticed when a jury awarded an arbitrary $368 million in damages in that case, when the trial judge reduced that verdict to an arbitrary $150 million judgment, and when an intermediate appellate court reduced that figure to an arbitrary $82.6 million (which, with interest, works out to over $100 million).

The US Supreme Court remanded to consider in light of Philip Morris v. Williams. For whatever reason, the California Court of Appeals decision to be even more disingenuous and say “We don’t care about Williams” reaffirming the $82.6 million got much more attention. Bruce Nye has the best analysis of the “thumb in your eye” decision; Lisa Perrochet also analyzes the verdict. John Rohan is critical. Press coverage: Recorder/Law.com; San Diego Union-Tribune; Reuters; AP/SJ Mercury News. Ford will appeal.

$6.5 million to driver not wearing seatbelt

Ruben Zamora lost control of his Ford Explorer after a tread-tire separation, causing a rollover; because he was not wearing his seatbelt, he was ejected from the vehicle and suffered brain injuries. (His four passengers suffered only minor injuries.) This is, a LaSalle County, Texas state court jury decided, 65% the fault of Ford, putting them on the hook for $6.5 million in damages. Ford denies responsibility and will appeal. (Margaret Cronin Fisk, “Ford Loses $6.5 Million Verdict in Explorer Rollover”, Bloomberg, Feb. 4; “Auto news headlines,” Detroit Free Press, Feb. 5; Nick Sullivan, “Brain-Injured Man Awarded $6.5M in Texas Rollover Case”, Andrews Publications, Feb. 11). Until a 2003 tort reform, Ford would not even have been allowed to introduce evidence that Zamora was not wearing his seat belt.

Mustang club calendars

Initial reports had it that the car company’s lawyers were objecting to fans’ putting out a calendar adorned with pictures they’d taken themselves of their beloved Mustangs. Later, the company said it was fine with the fans’ publishing the photos and calendars so long as they didn’t use the Ford logo. (AdRants, Jan. 14; Culture Garage, Jan. 11).