Piltch v. Ford Motor Co. – Injury Lawsuit Fails for Lack of Expert Witness

There are many car accident lawsuit that do not require the aid of an expert witness. The facts are straightforward enough that lay witnesses can describe the facts of the case to satisfy the legal standards of negligence and liability.
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However, car accidents that result from product defects often do require the input of an expert witness, especially with regard to the issue of causation. The reason is that one must be able to prove first that the defect existed, and secondly that the claimant’s injuries were caused or substantially worsened as a result of that defect.

These are not usually elements that can be legally satisfied absent the testimony of an expert.

One recent example of this was seen in the case of Piltch v. Ford Motor Co., reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (which oversees appeals from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin).

According to court records, plaintiffs were traveling in their four-year-old sport utility vehicle when they struck a patch of ice, causing the car to slide off the road and into a wall. The airbags did not deploy during the impact, and plaintiffs sustained serious injuries, including back and head injuries.

The year before that crash, the couple had been involved in another wreck involving the same vehicle. Although the impact was not as severe, the airbags didn’t deploy in that case either. The couple had the vehicle repaired, and assumed the shop that repaired the vehicle reset the airbag sensors, as would have been required. However, they had no proof of this.

Following the second crash, they again had the car repaired, though they did not retain the data box that would have recorded critical information about the crash. Additionally, they ended up selling the vehicle to a third party, so they no longer had the vehicle as evidence when they filed their product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the vehicle.

The injury lawsuit alleged the airbags were defective and they suffered enhanced injuries as a result of that fact.

Manufacturer moved for a summary judgment after plaintiffs failed to produce any expert witnesses to prove their claims. Plaintiffs argued expert witness testimony was not necessary to prove a manufacturing design or defect without expert witness testimony because circumstantial evidence – including the owner’s manual of the vehicle – created genuine issues of fact as to the defect and proximate cause of injuries.

Trial court judge disagreed and granted summary judgment to defendant.

On appeal, plaintiffs argued this was improper. However, appellate court affirmed for a number of reasons. First, without the black box evidence or expert witness testimony to provide a reconstructed view of the crash, there was no proof the vehicle was traveling fast enough or hit hard enough that the vehicle airbags should have deployed. That meant there was no proof the bags were even defective, which means there was no proof plaintiffs’ injuries were more severe than they otherwise would have been – which was the crux of their entire legal argument.

Contact the North Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Piltch v. Ford Motor Co., Feb. 11, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals for Seventh Circuit

More Blog Entries:
Hough v. McKiernan – Vehicle Insurer Not Liable Following Physical Attack, Feb. 9, 2015, Asheville Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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