The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that Ford Motor Co. intentionally misled Plaintiffs in a product liability trial in 2009. As a result, the Plaintiffs will get a new trial. Justice David Nahmias, writing for the Supreme Court, said:
If this case is to teach any lesson, it is that the civil discovery process is supposed to work to allow the parties to obtain the information they need to prove and defend their cases at trial before impartial juries. Discovery is not supposed to be a game in which the parties maneuver to hide the truth and relevant facts, and when a party does intentionally mislead its adversary, it bears the risk that the truth will later be revealed and that the judgment it obtained will be re-opened to allow a new trial based on the truth.
The case involved the death of a person in a 2006 rollover crash of a Ford Explorer Sportrac and the traumatic brain injury of another person. We contended that both were caused by vehicle defects. Ford got into trouble for how it answered questions in discovery about whether it carried insurance to cover a verdict against the company. The questions were asked so that potential jurors who also hold policies with a Defendant’s insurers may be screened for conflicts of interest. Ford failed to disclose the name of its liability insurance carriers. After our trial, Ford lawyers acknowledged in a separate case that it did in fact have insurance policies—leading to new trials or sanctions in three cases, including this one.
Ben Baker, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury/Products Liability Section, represented the Plaintiffs at trial. Robin Frazer Clark, an Atlanta trial lawyer, represented the Plaintiffs during oral arguments before the Supreme Court in October. She said the opinion may well have an effect on future discovery answers, adding that while it doesn’t absolutely directly apply to other cases, Defense lawyers will need to abide by the court’s instructive opinion regarding what happened in this case.
The high court’s decision upheld an order for a new trial by Cobb County State Court Judge Kathryn Tanksley. The judge granted a new trial after information came to light in another Ford Explorer rollover crash case. Judge Tanksley declared a mistrial in that case after Ford’s defense counsel announced that the answers they had given to questions about insurance coverage were incorrect. That case ultimately settled.
Ford appealed the new trial order in our case and a new trial ordered in a third case with similar issues. The national Product Liability Advisory Counsel Inc., including makers of everything from cars to electronics and retailers such as Wal-Mart, filed a brief supporting Ford. The Georgia Trial Lawyers Association filed a brief backing our position, saying the new trial must be upheld in order to insure “the right of all litigants to a just verdict rendered by a fair, impartial and constitutionally valid jury.” We plan to try the case again.
Source: Daily Report
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