Defense Verdict for Ford after Multi-Week Products Liability Trial
Kevin C. Schiferl and Carla De La Barra Helstrom of Frost Brown Todd LLC and Sergio Medina and Todd Croftchik of Seipp, Flick & Hosley LLP successfully represented the Defendants in Broward County (Florida) Circuit Court in a single-vehicle significant personal injury and double-death accident that occurred on December 2, 2006 in Broward County, Florida. The passengers of a 2005 Ford Focus sued Ford Motor Company and Koons Ford of Pembroke Pines claiming that the 2005 Ford Focus was defective because it lacked Electronic Stability Control (“ESC”), and that the dealership had failed to warn the purchasers of the lack of ESC on the Ford Focus.
The accident occurred when a 16 ½ year old driver was distracted and began drifting off the road to the left near some construction barrels on the Sawgrass Expressway in Broward County, Florida. In an attempt to regain his intended lane of travel, the driver aggressively over steered the vehicle to his right, causing it to begin to rotate in a clockwise direction. Realizing his vehicle was heading off the road to the right, the driver then began the process of steering the vehicle back to the left. Unfortunately, given the speed, the geometry of the terrain, and the magnitude of the driver’s preceding right steer, the vehicle continued to slide across travel lanes to his right and into and through an 80-foot wide grass shoulder, ending up in a 25-foot deep canal off the side of the road.
The Plaintiffs alleged that had the vehicle been equipped with ESC, the driver would not have lost control of the vehicle, or in the alternative, would have regained control of the vehicle, avoiding the canal.
The Defendants argued that the 2005 Ford Focus was not defective or unsafe; that the purchaser of the vehicle would not have bought ESC, as they had not purchased any of the building blocks for such a feature such as anti-lock brakes (ABS) or traction control; that ESC, if purchased would not have made a difference; and that the accident was fully caused by driver inattention.
Plaintiffs’ testifying experts were Murat Ockuoglu (Design) and Micky Gilbert (Accident reconstruction). Mr. Ockuoglu suggested that every vehicle in the United States of America in 2005 was defectively designed if it did not have ESC, as it was technologically feasible and practicable to put ESC on the vehicle. Mr. Gilbert, in addition to serving as an accident reconstructionist, suggested that ESC would have activated and prevented the accident from occurring.
Defendants’ experts were Dr. Geoff Germane (Accident reconstruction) and Donald Tandy (ESC/Handling). Ford Engineer Steve Beane provided engineering testimony as well. Dr. Germane’s accident reconstruction provided a building block for defense of the vehicle movement in the subject accident and that the driver’s loss of control was the cause, and not lack of ESC. Moreover, Mr. Tandy conducted extensive handling/driving demonstrations, with ESC on and off, to depict that ESC would not have made a difference in the subject accident.
Plaintiffs suggested a verdict in excess of $10,000,000.00 was appropriate. The jury of six returned a unanimous defense verdict on behalf of the Defendants in under an hour of deliberations.