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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. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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