Posts Tagged ‘Ford Motor’

Update: municipal Crown Victoria suits

Class action lawyers were suing Ford Motor claiming to represent Illinois municipalities that regretted buying the popular police model. Then Ford announced that it would decline to sell the car to towns that were suing over it. Now, according to the Illinois Civil Justice League, close to 1,000 municipalities have elected to opt out of the action — one sign among several that it was ill-conceived from the start. More here, here and here (cross-posted from Point of Law).

Deep pocket files: Michael Boyle v. Ford

Michael Boyle pleaded guilty to a charge of unsafe driving after he plowed into the back of a truck at 60 mph without braking and with his lights off. Unfortunately for Boyle, the under-ride rear impact guard of the truck, installed by Garden State Engine and Equipment, sheared off in the high-speed collision, and his car submarined under the truck, almost decapitating him, and leaving him with brain damage and facial insensation, though he’s able to work in his family business. This was, the New Jersey jury decided, 70% the fault of Ford Motor, which dared to sell an incomplete cab and chassis that complied with all federal regulations, and which could be modified in many different ways, not all of which require identical under-ride guards to comply with applicable regulations. $26.2 million in damages were assessed. Ford was not allowed to introduce Boyle’s guilty plea at trial. (John Petrick, “Faulting Ford and parts maker, jury awards crash victim $26.2M”, North Jersey, Mar. 22) (via Steenson, who made no mention of the contributory negligence in his summary). Unjust $26 million awards are apparently sufficiently “dog-bites-man” that the local press coverage is the only press coverage so far.

“2005’s Top Ten Jury Verdicts”

The new WSJ Law Blog summarizes (Jan. 16) Lawyers Weekly’s annual compilation of cases. As Lawyers Weekly tells it, the top verdicts this year were both somewhat lower and more closely linked to actual damages (i.e., less crazy) than last year’s. Among the ten: the Miami bus shelter electrocution discussed by Ted Jul. 10 (and linked to by the WSJ); Coleman v. Morgan Stanley, discussed in this space May 18 and Nov. 17; the $253 million verdict in Ernst v. Merck; the $105 million verdict against beer servers at New Jersey’s Giants Stadium (Jan. 21 and Feb. 2); and Hall-Edwards v. Ford Motor, involving an Explorer rollover.

Another interesting case on the list: Baker v. PrivatAir, in which a pilot forced out of his California job at age 63 won $64 million for age discrimination, wrongful termination, emotional distress and defamation. Some other employees with whom the pilot had had conflicts had joined forces to get him fired; one of the steps they took against him was to get him written up on safety charges, which the employer then did not adequately investigate.

Driver falls asleep: jury blames Ford to tune of $61M

In 1997, Melahn Parker fell asleep while driving a 1996 Ford Explorer at highway speeds; the SUV crashed, killing 17-year-old passenger Lance Crossman Hall, who was ejected because he was reclining in the front seat, thus preventing his seat-belt from restraining him. Parker was charged with careless driving, but a Miami jury viewed the accident as Ford’s fault, and awarded $61 million in damages yesterday, $60 million in pain and suffering. The plaintiff, Joan Hall-Edwards’s, Hall’s mother, has thus won a marvelous windfall in that her son was killed by a careless driver instead of by a means where she would have no deep pocket to seek lottery-style damages.

Ford will appeal. “This tragic accident occurred when the driver of the vehicle fell asleep at the wheel while traveling at highway speeds. Real-world experience and testing show that the Explorer is a safe vehicle, consistently performing as well as or better than other vehicles in its class,” Ford spokeswoman Karen Shaughnessy said.

Hall-Edwards’s attorney was Bruce Kaster, who complained that Ford blamed defective Firestone tires for what he called Explorer handling problems. This is a curious complaint, because Kaster calls himself “the nation’s foremost authority on tires and their defects,” has brought several lawsuits against Firestone, and has reserved the domain name “” for his law firm. On his site, Kasten complains that Ford models don’t have the same features as the more expensive Volvo models made by Ford’s subsidiary. Is it really to be considered a “defect” if an inexpensive car has fewer safety features than a more expensive car? Are consumers not permitted to make the decision for themselves how safe a car to purchase?

No doubt there will be further details than what the AP has provided so far, and we’ll update as more becomes known. (Jennifer Kay, “Ford Ordered to Pay $61M in SUV Accident “, AP, Nov. 16).

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).

Laminated glass in car windows

Belatedly following up on the Mar. 7 report about the $31 million verdict against Ford Motor in Zavala County, Tex., on attorney Mikal Watts’s theory (as we put it then) “that the [ejection] 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,” law student Shane Murphy (George Mason U.) had the following comment:

Laminated glass, which is two layers of plate glass with plastic laminate in between, is used on automotive windshields. It has been used for decades to keep objects from easily getting through the windshield and entering the vehicle, not the other way around. In fact, I have seen more than one hapless unbelted occupant of a vehicle propelled fully through a laminated windshield.

Safety glass, which is designed to shatter into very small pieces, is used on side windows in cars. This type of glass is easy to shatter should you need to make a hasty exit from the vehicle, and that’s a key reason it’s put there. It also shatters into small pieces with very little “sharding,” reducing the opportunity for serious injury from broken glass.

Laminated glass requires a special saw to get through. With 12 years of experience, it still takes me five minutes to saw through a car windshield. If your car is on fire you’d prefer safety glass for this reason alone. Laminated glass also causes serious head and facial injuries to those who do full face-plants against the windshield despite seat belt warnings. It will have the same effect in a side window if an occupant is unbelted.

Some automakers are putting laminated glass in the side windows of high-end cars, but this trend should be viewed with great caution. This type of glass does prevent people from “popping a window” to escape from a vehicle in an emergency situation. Two examples of emergencies of this type are vehicle crashes with resulting fires and accidents where a vehicle ends up partially submerged in a body of water. In both cases, the electrical system will likely short out and will prevent easy exit since nearly all cars now have power windows.

I really cannot believe this theory about auto glass even got past the laugh test, never mind into the jury room. Automotive glass should not be used to keep people in the vehicle. Using automotive glass as a backup safety feature would do more harm than good. Seat belts are to keep you in the vehicle, not windows. In fact, I much prefer glass that breaks easily.

More: reader Brian Poldrack of Houston, Texas writes in to say:

Read On…

Mikolajczyk v. Ford and Mazda: $27 million in Escort seat litigation

Drunk driver William Timberlake, speeding at 60 mph, rear-ended the Ford Escort in which 46-year-old James Mikolajczyk was stopped at an intersection. Only 3% of fatalities occur in rear-end collisions, so Ford, like most car companies, designs its seat-backs to meet federal safety standards and provide additional protection in other types of collisions–with the unfortunate and unavoidable trade-off that the seat will not perform as well in a rear-end collision. Mikolajczyk’s ten-year-old daughter survived, but Mikolajczyk’s seat collapsed, his head hit the rear of the passenger compartment, and he never regained consciousness before dying three days later. A Cook County jury deliberated all of three hours before finding Ford 40% responsible. And because Ford was found more than 25% responsible, it is on the hook for the entire $27 million award, including $25 million in non-economic damages. Timberlake is in prison. Only the specialty legal press raised the issue of joint and several liability; the mainstream press didn’t even mention the 40/60 split in comparative fault. (Bill Myers, “$27 million verdict in fatal accident”, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Mar. 16 (via ICJL); Steve Patterson, “Ford, Mazda ordered to pay $27 million in death”, Chicago Sun-Times, Mar. 17; Chris Hack, “Carmakers to pay in SE Side crash”, Daily Southtown News, Mar. 17; Rafael Romo, “Jury Awards Millions In Fatal Crash Caused By Deffective [sic] Seat”, WBBM-2, Mar. 17; Mikolajczyk v. Ford Motor Co., No. 00 L 3342 (Cook County, Ill.)). More seat-back litigation coverage on this site: Dec. 21; Nov. 24.

Bruce Pfaff, Mikolajczyk’s attorney, previously won a similar seat-back case from an Indiana accident where a cocaine-and-PCP-impaired driver, Kevin Gaczkowski, rear-ended and paralyzed the plaintiff, Lydia Carillo. Ford was found 30% liable (in part because the jury wasn’t told of Gaczkowski’s condition), and paid 100% of the $14.5 million verdict. Carillo v. Ford (Ill. App. 2001). In Carillo, a jury was told to decide whether a vehicle was unreasonably dangerous, but Ford wasn’t allowed to show the jury statistics on how the seatbacks performed in rear-impact collisions (even as the plaintff introduced anecdotal testimony from other paraplegics), or introduce testimony showing that the plaintiffs’ preferred seat-design would have also caused injury. It’s ludicrous enough to have a jury second-guess design decisions as part of a particular case without being forced to be consistent with other juries second-guessing how those same design decisions are operating in other circumstances. But it’s truly absurd to have a jury do this without access to the data of the costs and benefits, thus making the trial purely a game-show over the persuasiveness of hired experts.

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.

“Ford wins cop-car suit”

In Belleville, Ill., a St. Clair County jury has ruled that the Ford Motor Co.’s Crown Victoria police cruiser is not defective and not unreasonably susceptible to fuel-fed fires after high-speed rear-end collisions. A class action on behalf of Illinois police departments had been filed in the famously pro-plaintiff county. The verdict represents a rebuke to trial lawyers who’ve been campaigning nationally for some time against the vehicle: see Nov. 5, 2003 and Sept. 29, 2004. (Bloomberg/Detroit Free Press, Oct. 16; Beth Hundsdorfer, “Ford earns victory in police car suit”, Belleville News-Democrat, Oct. 16).

Send us more of your defective product, please

Charlie Morris, the sheriff of Okaloosa County, Florida, is suing Ford Motor over alleged defects in its Crown Victoria Police Interceptor vehicles. But he also wants the company to sell the county more of the cars. When Ford refused, Sheriff Morris sued asking the court to force the automaker to furnish more vehicles. Circuit Judge G. Robert Barron rejected the suit, saying case law makes clear that companies have a right to avoid dealing with unwelcome customers. (“Judge: Ford Can Refuse to Sell Cars to Police Suing Company”, AP/TampaBayOnline, Sept. 28). For more on the Crown Victoria, see Nov. 5, 2003.