During the jury selection process in a hotly-contested lawsuit in a Georgia state court, Ford Motor Company admitted that it has had liability insurance coverage for its product liability claims since 1999. Unfortunately, the automaker never saw fit to let judges and lawyers know about it. In a wrongful death lawsuit (Young v. Barrett), filed in Cobb County, Ford finally revealed to Judge Kathryn Tanksley, a day after the jury venire had been duly qualified, that the company actually has multiple insurance policies issued by several insurance companies to cover product liability claims. Under Georgia law, it is a reversible error not to qualify a jury venire on the insurance carriers of a Defendant in a civil lawsuit. Judge Tanksley had repeatedly warned Ford’s lawyers prior to the start of jury selection that, if in fact the automaker had insurance, a mistrial would be the result. The judge also instructed the lawyers to confirm whether or not Ford had liability insurance coverage that applied to the case. The Ford lawyers assured the court repeatedly that the company had no insurance and proceeded with jury selection.
Janice and Donald R. Young of Greensboro, N.C. filed the lawsuit which involved the death of their 15-year-old son, Donald R. Young III. The youngster died in Georgia after a rollover crash of a Ford Explorer. During discovery responses in the case, lawyers representing the Plaintiffs requested information from Ford regarding insurance proceeds that would be applicable to any judgment returned in the case. Instead of identifying potential insurance carriers, as required by Georgia law, Ford’s lawyers responded as follows: “Ford states that it has sufficient resources to cover any judgment which could be reasonably rendered in this case, if any.”
Since Ford, based on the response, appeared to be self-insured, no further discovery was sought on the insurance issue. Following voir dire, Ford’s lawyers admitted to the court that the auto maker did have liability insurance, through a network of insurance carriers. Due to Ford’s failure to truthfully respond to Plaintiffs’ discovery requests and specific inquiries made to Ford’s lawyers by Judge Tanksley, the company’s out-of-state lawyers had their pro hac vice orders revoked by the court. In addition, a portion of Ford’s answer was stricken by Judge Tanksley as a sanction. A new jury was selected and the case was tried for a week and subsequently settled during the trial for a confidential amount.
Because of the revelation of Ford’s insurance in the Young case and the harsh sanctions imposed on the automaker for its deceptive practice of not identifying insurance, Ford is now amending responses in pending cases to identify the existence of insurance. For example, in a case being handled by our law firm, Ford has recently amended its discovery responses to identify numerous insurance carriers and excess insurance coverage up to $500,000,000.00. This information had never previously been disclosed by Ford’s lawyers.
In all likelihood, Ford will face numerous motions for new trials in cases where Ford did not disclose its insurance carriers. Jurors who sat on Ford cases could have been policyholders of a company that insured Ford. As a result, in a lot of trials, the jury may have never been properly qualified due to Ford’s cover-up of its insurance policies. Ford’s intentional refusal to identify insurance carriers in cases is a clear effort to influence juries into believing that any award would be coming directly from Ford. Ford’s trial tactic in the Young case clearly was meant to influence the jurors. Qualifying juries on the existence of insurance carriers of a Defendant is a fundamental right to ensure that a fair and impartial jury can be selected. Ford’s actions are a prime example of how huge corporations believe that they are above the requirements of the law.
Regardless of the subject matter, lawyers and their clients, both Plaintiff and Defendant, have an obligation to tell the truth in litigation. When something like the events described in the Young case happens, it hurts all of us who are involved in the civil justice system.
Stephen G. Lowry of Harris Penn Lowry Delcoampo, was the lead lawyer for the Plaintiffs in this case. As the trial progressed, Darren W. Penn, another lawyer in the firm, was negotiating with the Ford general counsel’s office. The lawyers in this case did an outstanding job.
Source: Cobb County Court Records and Fulton County Daily Report and Law.com
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