A federal court jury in Arkansas returned a $19 million dollar verdict last month against Ford Motor Company. The Plaintiff in the case was paralyzed in a December 27, 2005 motor vehicle accident in Greene County, Arkansas, approximately 13 miles from Jonesboro. He swerved as a dog ran in front of his 1998 Ford Windstar and the van began to roll. The Plaintiff was wearing his seatbelt, but during the rollover he was ejected and sustained paralyzing injuries. The Plaintiff is now a tetraplegic, with partial use of his hands and arms.
The defect claim focused on the design of the buckle and particularly the release button housed within the buckle of the restraint system on the 1998 Windstar. The design utilized by Ford featured a protruding button. The top of the button is located above the top of the buckle housing permitting easier access to the button. The protrusion of the button renders the design of the buckle defective and unreasonably dangerous because it presents an unnecessary hazard for inadvertent release.
During the late 1980s and into the 1990s, Ford adopted a release button designed for their seatbelt buckles which was designed primarily to address aesthetics. Unfortunately, a protruding button design increases the risk for accidental or inadvertent release of the seatbelt. Since the design was manufactured by TRW, it was supplied not only on a number of Ford vehicles but also other manufacturers utilized the protruding button as well. By the late 1990s, the entire industry, to include Ford, started moving away from the protruding buckle to a safer design with a flush button. Also, later model vehicles often used a console or some other form of shielding for the buckle and button from inadvertent release.
Those who have the Ford protruding button in their vehicles should be aware it does present a danger in the event of an accident if an individual or object comes in contact with the button causing an accidental release. Consumers are entitled to have seat belts that work properly. Unfortunately, the protruding button design causes the seat belts not to work properly and protect occupants. Jim Pratt, a very good lawyer with Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, located in Birmingham, Alabama, represented the Plaintiff and did an excellent job in the case.
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