Charleston auto accident attorneys were sent the following case and felt it an excellent example of the difficulty in determining negligence in highly unpredictable circumstances. The Ford Motor Company, back in November, pleaded with the Illinois Supreme Court to overturn a large reward in the amount of $43 million granted in a Madison County verdict in 2005. The lawyers representing Ford argued that manufacturers of any goods would be subject to open-ended liability for many years to come if the ruling were allowed to stand, according to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
The initial verdict came in Madison County Circuit Court and was upheld by the Fifth District Appellate Court before the case went to the Illinois Supreme Court. An Appellate Court Justice wrote, “we believe that the parties received a fair trial in this case.” It goes without saying Ford disagreed with this opinion as the suit made its way to State Supreme Court.
The reason for the case came after the fuel tank exploded in a couple’s 1993 Lincoln Town Car. The husband driving the Town Car was killed and the wife suffered severe burn injuries.
In 2003 the couple were in their Lincoln, stopped in a line of cars at construction site on Interstate 270 at Illinois Route 2003 when another driver, who had taken their eyes off the road to find sunglasses, hit the Lincoln from behind. What comes next is almost unbelievable, a pipe wrench in the trunk of the Town Car flew into the gas tank, ripping it open, igniting the fuel, and causing the explosion. The couple was able to escape their burning vehicle, but not unscathed. The wife has permanent and severe injuries from the auto accident, and as mentioned before, the husband ultimately died despite being able to escape his burning Town Car.
The wife and her son sued Ford, alleging negligence and seeking punitive damages. Ford made the argument that this was highly unique circumstance and pointed out that there has never been an incident where a Town Car had exploded due to an item in the trunk rupturing the fuel tank.
However, the plaintiffs (wife and son), were able to show jurors 416 similar accidents that Ford compiled in the early 1990s. In addition, two states had asked Ford to redesign their fuel tanks in police cruisers because officers had died in similar collisions. The plaintiffs also showed that Ford sent warnings and instructions for packing trunk items to police departments, car dealers, and government agencies that owned Ford vehicles.
In the Madison County Circuit Court, $23 million was awarded to the wife for her injuries, $5 million to the wife and son for the loss of their husband and father, and $15 million in punitive damages.
Ford has had a difficult time in appeals claiming that the plaintiffs did not identify a standard of care the auto-maker violated. Ford also asserts negligence claims shouldn’t have been allowed to go to the jury and that the judge should not have permitted punitive damages.