The family of a Major League Baseball prospect recently won a massive $131 million verdict against Ford after the player was killed in a rollover accident. The jury found that although the individual was thrown from his Ford Explorer, he had been wearing his seatbelt. Bruising on the body, as well as the fact that the seatbelt was still "buckled in," provided ample evidence that the player was had been seatbelted, and the question then turned to how/why he was ejected from the car. Documents obtained in the discovery phase of the case showed that Ford knew that certain seatbelts could loosen during rollover accidents, but failed to use a widely-available seatbelt that fixed the problem.
This is an important case in terms of liability against manufacturers. As a general rule in product liability actions, if a safer alternative to the defective component is available, and a manufacturer chooses not to use or install it, that manufacturer can be liable for injuries sustained if that component fails. This rule is not always clear cut. For example, if a safer alternative is available, but would make a product prohibitively expensive, a manufacturer may not be liable.
In this case, the jury was convinced that because Ford knew about the potentially defective seatbelts, but elected not to install them, it was liable for the injuries that caused Mr. Cole's death.
While the $131 million verdict will almost certainly be appealed by Ford, it shows that even when you think you are protected when you use your seatbelt, there remains the potential for catastrophic injury.
The attorneys for Mr. Cole's family demonstrated a great attention to detail in this case, and their work was rewarded. By obtaining the documents, studies, and correspondence generated between Ford and the seatbelt manufacturer, the attorneys were able to show that not only was a safer alternative available, but that Ford knew about it five years prior to using it.
At Dreyer Boyajian, we strive to identify every avenue of liability to ensure that our clients receive the maximum compensation for their injuries. If you or a loved one has been injured by a defective product, in a car accident, or due to the negligence of someone else, it is important to contact an attorney to learn about and protect your legal rights.
Sam Breslin is an associate at Dreyer Boyajian LLP and represents individuals injured due to defective products. He can be reached at 518-463-7784.