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Justices order new trial to determine fault in Ford rollover suit

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The Indiana Supreme Court has reversed the allocation of fault in a wrongful death action against Ford Motor Co. and other defendants, finding the evidence didn’t support allocating fault to the manufacturer of the seatbelt assembly and a nonparty. The high court was also faced with the challenge of allocating fault among the remaining parties.

In TRW Vehicle Safety Systems, Inc., and Ford Motor Company v. Sally J. Moore, personal representative of the estate of Daniel A. Moore, deceased, No. 73S05-0909-CV-404, the Supreme Court was faced with appeals from defendants Ford, and TRW Vehicle Safety Systems challenging the jury verdict and adverse judgment, as well as from plaintiff Sally J. Moore, whose husband Daniel died after he was thrown from his Ford Explorer through the sunroof during a rollover after a tire failure. Moore was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the crash. Sally Moore claimed there was insufficient evidence to support apportioning a portion of fault to nonparty Goodyear Tire.

Sally Moore brought a wrongful death action, and the jury found total damages to be $25 million and allocated fault to Moore at 33 percent; Ford at 31 percent; nonparty Goodyear at 31 percent; and TRW at 5 percent. Judgments were entered against Ford for $7.75 million and against TRW for $1.25 million.

The four justices ruled against Ford in all of its claims on appeal, and ruled in favor on TRW’s appeal regarding the denial of its motion for judgment on the evidence. The plaintiff claimed TRW was liable for negligent design of the seatbelt assembly. The evidence shows that TRW made the seatbelt assembly in compliance with Ford’s design specifications, wrote Justice Brent Dickson. There is no evidence showing TRW failed to exercise reasonable care in designing the assembly, so the motion for judgment on the evidence should have been granted. The justices vacated the judgment and allocation of 5 percent fault to TRW.

They also ordered a reduction in damages awarded attributable to the Moores’ son’s projected damages for a life span of 37.1 years. The jury should have only considered the time between the age the son was when his father died until his 18th birthday, so the son’s portion of the total damages determination should have been reduced by 78 percent, wrote Justice Dickson. They ordered a new trial subject to remittitur, wherein Sally Moore may instead accept a determination of total damages, before allocation of comparative fault for a sum of nearly $16 million.

The justices also granted Sally Moore’s cross-appeal because there wasn’t enough evidence to support allocating fault to Goodyear. But then the justices were left with the task of reassigning fault percentages to the remaining parties – Ford and Moore – a process that isn’t dictated by statute or caselaw. Indiana Appellate Rule 66 provides a broad range of options, and the justices decided in the interest of justice to order a new trial to allocate fault. They remanded on the issues of comparative fault and the allocation between Ford and Moore. If the fault of Moore doesn’t exceed that of Ford, the resulting fault allocations shall be applied to the total damages determined in this case, wrote Justice Dickson.
 

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  1. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  2. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  3. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  4. I totally agree with John Smith.

  5. An idea that would harm the public good which is protected by licensing. Might as well abolish doctor and health care professions licensing too. Ridiculous. Unrealistic. Would open the floodgates of mischief and abuse. Even veteranarians are licensed. How has deregulation served the public good in banking, for example? Enough ideology already!

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