Car Defects a Hidden Threat in Carolina Traffic Collisions

It’s enough to worry that the other motorists with whom you share the road may not be as cautious a driver as you.
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It’s another thing to be concerned that if you happen to cross paths with one of those other drivers, the vehicle in which you’re traveling won’t keep you safe. Motor vehicle consumers have some very basic expectations for the safety standards of their cars. When those are not met – as is too often tragically revealed in the course a North Carolina injury lawsuit – a defective-vehicle tort claim may offer the best recourse.

Such was the case in Ford Motor Co. v. Washington, which was an appeal from by the automaker to the state supreme court in Arkansas, where a plaintiff had previously won a $7.1 million judgment against the automaker as the result of a defective vehicle claim.

Although the judgment was just handed down by the high court this month, the incident occurred in the summer of 2000. That’s when a man and his 11-year-old son, traveling in a 1994 Ford Explorer, were struck on the driver’s side by another driver who blew through a stop sign.

As a result of the impact, the Explorer rolled over twice. The man’s son walked away from the crash, as did the offending female driver who had run a stop sign. The Explorer driver, however, was killed after suffering severe head injuries when he was ejected from the vehicle and crushed.

A wrongful death claim brought by the man’s widow against the other driver was settled, but a claim against Ford dragged on for years. The man’s widow alleged, among other things, negligence, strict liability, breach of warranties and failure to warn.

The case finally went to trial in the summer of 2010 – a full 10 years after the crash. The plaintiff asserted that the Explorer had two primary defects:

  • The propensity to roll over;
  • Side windows that employed tempered glass, rather than laminated glass, that increased the likelihood of ejection or partial ejection in the case of a roll over.

Following the two week trial, the jury sided in favor of the plaintiff, awarding the widow $4.6 million in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages.

Ford appealed that verdict, arguing, among other points, that the circuit court had abused its discretion in refusing to allow into evidence indications that the deceased hadn’t been wearing a seat belt and that the tempered glass claim was preempted by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard.

The state supreme court ultimately affirmed the lower court’s findings on these areas, rejecting the notion that the court had abused its discretion.

First on the issue of the seat belt, state law bars evidence of lack of a seat belt in civil injury actions, not to mention the fact that it was never definitively proven that the deceased hadn’t been wearing a seat belt.

On the issue of the tempered glass, the manufacturer argued that FMVSS 205 allows automakers to use tempered glass for side windows and that the failure of the lower court to dismiss this part of the claim was grounds for a new trial. This is a strong argument. However, the court found that the preemption argument was waived because the jury reached the verdict on a general verdict form. That means there was no indication of what percentage of the verdict – if any – was reached on that issue. As such, the court affirmed the jury’s findings.

If you have been injured in a car accident, contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Ford Motor Co. v. Washington, Dec. 12, 2013, Supreme Court of Arkansas, Appeal from the Jefferson County Circuit Court

More Blog Entries:
Martin v. Lawrence: Preparing for an Injury Trial, Dec. 13, 2013, Charlotte Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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