The South Carolina Supreme Court has overturned an $18 million verdict against Ford Motor Co. in a fatal crash.
The Court ruled that one expert shouldn’t have been allowed to testify about cruise-control problems. Sonya Watson, 17 years old, was paralyzed after losing control of her Ford Explorer in December 1999. The teenager’s sport-utility vehicle veered off the left side of an interstate highway, rolling four times. Her female passenger was killed. Both women were ejected from the SUV, a 1995 model.
The two estates sued Ford contending during a 2006 trial that the Explorer “took off” after Ms. Watson set the cruise control. Ms. Watson’s father testified that the Explorer had accelerated suddenly two other times while he was driving it. He also said repair technicians had told him the SUV’s new floor mats caused the acceleration problem and needed to be turned over. A jury awarded Ms. Watson $15 million, allocating another $3 million for the passenger’s estate. But in the opinion Chief Justice Jean Toal overturned that award, writing that a trial judge shouldn’t have allowed testimony from an expert about cruise-control problems in Ford Explorers, or examples of other acceleration problems.
Electrical engineer Antony Anderson testified at trial that electromagnetic radiation had interfered with the cruise-control system and caused Ms. Watson’s sudden acceleration. But the Court felt Mr. Anderson, even though he was a trained and experienced electrical engineer, didn’t know enough about Ford Explorers or their systems to testify as an expert, Chief Justice Toal wrote: “He (Anderson) had no experience in the automobile industry, never studied a cruise-control system, and never designed any component of a cruise-control system.”
The judge added that Mr. Anderson said he had never even operated a vehicle with a cruise-control system or published any articles on the subject. The Court also ruled that the trial judge shouldn’t have allowed testimony about similar acceleration problems that involved vehicles of different models made in different years. Once this case is looked at carefully, I don’t believe many courts will follow this decision.
Source: Associated Press
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