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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. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

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