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COA reverses judgment for Ford in liability suit

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment today in favor of Ford Motor Co. in a products liability lawsuit, but the judges disagreed as to whether the manufacturer breached its duty to warn of the dangers of children riding in the front seat with airbags turned on.

In Peter and Lori Cook, as parents and next best friend of Lindsey Jo Cook, minor v. Ford Motor Co., No. 49A02-0802-CV-130, the Cooks sued Ford after their 8-year-old daughter, Lindsey, suffered severe head trauma when the front passenger seat airbag deployed during a minor accident. Lindsey had removed her seatbelt prior to the accident.

The Cooks claimed her injuries were caused in part by Ford's defective instruction and warnings with respect to the front passenger seat airbag and the airbag deactivation switch. Peter and Lori Cook admitted to not reading the entire owner's manual or the airbag warning on the front seat visor regarding airbags. Based on what they did read, they believed airbags should only be turned off in the front seat when a child is riding in a rear-facing safety seat.

The appellate court ruled that 49 C.F.R. Section 571.208 - Standard 208 - of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, doesn't preempt the Cooks' failure to warn claim. The Cooks argued waiver for the purposes of the appeal and wanted the Court of Appeals to prohibit Ford from raising S4.5.4.4 of the Safety Act on remand. That section explains what information a vehicle owner's manual shall provide regarding the airbag cutoff device.

The judges decided that Wyeth v. Levine, 129 S. Ct. 1187 (2009), should control the instant case. It also held that S4.5.4.4 provides a floor for the warnings that are to be included in an owner's manual with respect to airbag safety and use of the cutoff device, but it isn't a ceiling. The points addressed in that section must be included in the owner's manual, but the specific language isn't mandated and additional points aren't foreclosed, wrote Judge Margret Robb.

The appellate judges disagreed on the Cooks' claim for breach of duty to warn on the dangers associated with the truck's airbags. Judges Robb and Terry Crone couldn't say whether the instructions were adequate as a matter of law and questioned whether a reasonable person would have understood based on Ford's instructions that an injury could occur under the circumstances of this case. The majority also reversed summary judgment regarding proximate cause.

"Whether the backseat instruction, in conjunction with the airbag instruction, is adequate to warn of the dangers to children of airbag deployment and whether the Cooks' failure to follow the backseat instruction was a reasonably foreseeable intervening cause is, again, a question of fact properly reserved for the jury," wrote Judge Robb.

Judge Elaine Brown dissented because she believed the Cooks failed to comply with Ford's adequate warning to put children in the backseat of a car and to always wear their safety belts. There's no dispute the truck's manual contained warnings about those dangers and that it was possible for the parents to have Lindsey sit in the backseat at the time the accident occurred, she wrote.

The Court of Appeals also unanimously affirmed the denial of Ford's motion for fees and costs incurred during the first trial of this cause. The case is remanded for further proceedings.

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  1. Hysteria? Really Ben? Tell the young lady reported on in the link below that worrying about the sexualizing of our children is mere hysteria. Such thinking is common in the Royal Order of Jesters and other running sex vacays in Thailand or Brazil ... like Indy's Jared Fogle. Those tempted to call such concerns mere histronics need to think on this: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-12-year-old-girl-live-streamed-her-suicide-it-took-two-weeks-for-facebook-to-take-the-video-down/ar-AAlT8ka?li=AA4ZnC&ocid=spartanntp

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  3. This is happening so much. Even in 2016.2017. I hope the father sue for civil rights violation. I hope he sue as more are doing and even without a lawyer as pro-se, he got a good one here. God bless him.

  4. JLAP and other courtiers ... Those running court systems, have most substance abuse issues. Probably self medicating to cover conscience issues arising out of acts furthering govt corruption

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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