Force v. Ford Motor Company
ORLANDO FLORIDA - Ford MOTOR COMPANY SEATBELT DEFECT
A northwest Orange County man who suffered severe brain injuries in a 1996 car accident when a seatbelt failed was awarded $32.5 million Thursday by a local jury. After a third trial in a long-disputed case, an Orange Circuit Court jury ruled that a restraint-system defect caused the head injury to Mark Force, now 38. It also ruled that Ford Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Corp.—which designed the seat-belt system for part-owner Ford—were negligent for failing to warn consumers about the seatbelt defect in the 1993 Ford Escort driven by Force.
"They had five years of warning to do something about this on Ford Escorts and Mercury Tracers but did nothing about it," said one of Force's trial lawyers, Ben Hogan of Birmingham, AL. Force, then 27, was driving northbound on two-lane Clarcona Road on July 1, 1996, when he was struck head-on by a southbound Ford Mustang that swerved into his lane to pass another vehicle. He was wearing a motorized shoulder belt and a manual lap belt.
Potts v. Farley
BIRMINGHAM ALABAMA - pEDESTRIAN wrongful death FROM VEHICLE STRIKE
A Jefferson County jury this week returned a $1.71 million judgment against former Alabama Power and Southern Nuclear President Joseph Farley, who was sued last year after his vehicle struck and killed a Southern Research Institute employee delivering mail. The wrongful death lawsuit was filed in circuit court in April by Gregory Potts' brother, the executor of his estate. Potts, 50, of Woodlawn, was hit Feb. 11 while crossing 22nd Street at Eighth Court South to deliver mail from one SRI building to another.
Pool v. Kendrick
BIRMINGHAM ALABAMA - DISTRACTED DRIVER CRASH REAR-END COLLISION
A Jefferson County jury returned a verdict against a distracted driver after she rear ended a man stopped in rush hour traffic on I-459 near highway 280 causing him to suffer a brain injury. Accident reconstructionist Ken Featherstone reconstructed the accident and neuropsychologist Thomas J. Boll evaluated Mr. Pool.
Norton v. Wills
ROME GEORGIA - DISTRACTED DRIVER CRASH HEAD-ON COLLISION
On February 2, 2016 Mary Norton was returning home when a distracted driver crossed the center line and crashed into her head-on. Ms. Norton suffered head and severe spinal injuries resulting in a three-level lumbar fusion surgery. A successful result was returned on September 25, 2018.
Hansen v. Altec Industries
REDDING CALIFORNIA - BOOM TRUCK DEFECT LEADS TO PARALYSIS
On July 30, 2012 Lance Hansen was paralyzed when the defective boom tip of an Altec AP-45 collapsed during use. Hogan Law Office, LLC performed extensive work proving the defectiveness of the subject design including CAD modelling and 3D printing a full size reproduction of the defective boom tip design. We worked with the Redding California law firm of Reiner Slaughter to bring the case to a successful result.
The Spitting Juror
Edwards v General Motors (Birmingham, 1983)
During jury selection the son of a secretary in the defense law firm could have been struck for cause. Instead our jury selection advisor said leave him on. He was bouncing in his chair during jury selection. Our consultant said he would not last the trial if picked, and the first alternate who would take his place was very good for us. Early in the trial, the judge interrupted defense cross examination of our expert and called us to his office. "I observed juror number 2 spitting from the jury box in your (defense counsel’s) direction," he told us. The immediate motion for mistrial was denied, and the juror was replaced by the first alternate, who was jury foreperson for a $4 million verdict. During oral arguments on appeal, the defense counsel pleaded with the Supreme Court for a new trial: "He was spitting at me!" Justice Beatty, a former law school professor, replied, "Well, did he hit you?" The appeal was affirmed.
The Gift Crash Test
Force v Ford (Orlando, Fl. 2007)
In a case that went through 3 trials and 2 appeals in 10 years, we said the spool-out of the seatbelt allowed the plaintiff to receive brain damage where he would not have been hurt otherwise. When we were between the 2 nd and 3 rd trials, Ford ran a crash test to show a similar crash with no spool-out. The crash test showed that when the dummy’s belt did not spool out, there was no head contact. It proved our causation. There would have been no injury in this accident unless there was spool-out. During deposition of the defense expert who ran the test, I asked, "Whose idea was it to run this test?" (expecting the expert to say it was his). Instead he pointed to defense counsel. "His!" The defense crash test was used in plaintiff opening, several times during our case and in the closing argument. Result: $32.5 million, affirmed on appeal.
The English Teacher’s Sentence Diagram
Sena Phillips v United American Insurance (Gadsden, 1989)
Ms. Phillips had a Medicare Supplement policy bought through her agent. The brochure said it would pay all charges not covered by Medicare. The agent admitted that is what he showed Ms. Phillips to sell it to her. The policy language, however, said it would pay only the Medicare deductible. One of Ms. Phillips’ doctor bills was only half paid by the combination of Medicare and the supplemental policy. The agent suggested Ms. Phillips see a lawyer. The lawsuit claimed written fraud. Evidence showed the defendant carrier was making millions of dollars in profit on this policy, in fact more than allowed by State regulations. One witness called for plaintiff was a local English teacher. She diagrammed on the blackboard the brochure sentence promising coverage, and the corresponding policy language limiting it. She explained to the jury, many of whom had been her students, that they said very different things. Although the bill involved was only a few hundred dollars, the punitive damages verdict for plaintiff totaled $1.5 million.
The Marine Corps Propeller Guards
Ashley Elliott v Brunswick (Birmingham, 1989)
In this case, we contended was that boat engines intended for water skiing should come with propeller guards. Propeller guards are used in many parts of the world. Patents for them have existed more than 100 years. Plaintiff had been badly cut in an accident near a boat dock. One expert witness for plaintiff made and sold propeller guards to the US Marine Corps. He appeared in court with one of his guards. His guard was tested on the boat and engine involved in the accident and made the boat do a better job of pulling skiers. The guards won the day with the jury, but the $4.5 million verdict was reversed on appeal. Perhaps the day will come when propeller guards or pump jets (like on jet skis) make propeller injuries a thing of the past.
The Gift Accident Simulation
Marinelli v Volkswagen (Birmingham, 1992)
The plaintiff was killed in the rollover of a VW "Thing" (SUV) driven by a young friend. Our contention was that the vehicle was unstable. It should have been lower and wider, and it would not have rolled over in the sharp turn. Plaintiff evidence included a statistical analysis showing that if vehicles had a relation of height to width of 1.2, rollover was very unlikely in any kind of accident. Defense expert ran a simulation showing the accident. Their purpose was to emphasize bad driving. Plaintiff successfully moved the court to force defense to permit inspection of the defense computer program by plaintiff’s experts. Once obtained, our experts adjusted the inputs to show a lower and wider vehicle. When the same "accident" was run using the defense program, the vehicle did not roll over. Plaintiff waited until defense had run its program during the trial, then ran the adjusted vehicle simulation in rebuttal. They jury returned a verdict of $1.55 million. When affirmed on appeal, the Supreme Court opinion also cited the 1.2 minimum stability ratio.
Tyson v Ford (Jacksonville, Fl. 2002)
The largest airbag made to date by Ford was the passenger bag in the Ford Windstar. Its crash testing showed it complied with government test specifications. It also showed that it dummies in the face during deployment in 12 out of 12 tests at deployment speeds up to 180 mph . Government standards do not measure eye contact force from airbags. Standards do not address danger to eyes. All of these dummies would have been blinded by the airbag. Plaintiff’s expert, a former GM airbag engineer, showed that the GM airbag had an internal tether to prevent the deployment into dummy face. This tether cost $3, which amounted to millions of dollars in savings by a company that knew that without it a person could be blinded. Plaintiff lost one eye in a minor accident because of this $3 savings. She dealt with constant pain. Her husband could not do activities with her that they enjoyed before. The $1.5 million verdict included $250,000 for her husband. There was no appeal.
Keep It Simple
Trimble v Ford (Birmingham, 1979)
The Ford truck in which plaintiff was riding in back on a country road overturned after a steering failure. Plaintiff fell out and was a paraplegic. The first trial, which had lasted 6 weeks, involved three alternate theories and several experts, and resulted in a defense verdict. After reversal on appeal, the second trial lasted 6 days, with one theory and one expert. The result was a $1.5 million verdict, which proved that the best approach is to keep your case simple.
The Defendant's Eye Doctor
Estate of Potts v Farley (Birmingham, 2010)
Plaintiff was delivering mail on the job and crossed the street at an intersection without a stoplight or a crosswalk going from one building to another. The elderly defendant motorist struck and killed him. Contributory negligence was claimed by defense, a complete defense in Alabama. We decided to investigate the defendant’s vision. We took the deposition of the defendant’s eye doctor, which revealed macular degeneration drawings. Defendant in his own hand had depicted his loss of vision, showing significant loss of vision field. This caused the jury to disregard the defense focusing on plaintiff and resulted in a $1.7 million verdict. The defendant finally gave up driving.
Seeing Is Believing
Cord Systems, Inc. v Goslin-Birmingham (Birmingham, 1980)
Plaintiff Cord Systems was a small company that invented a drum dryer that helped the company transform food waste into animal food. After getting a patent, it contracted with defendant manufacturer to make the steel drum for its plant. Defendant had on hand an unsold iron drum. In order to make more profit, defendant told plaintiff the iron drum would work as well as a steel one, and unloaded it. The iron drum failed because wet food stuck to it. The plaintiff company lost its investors and failed. In the suit the theory of breach of contract allowed limited damages. The defendant’s pretrial offer was the $30,000 cost of the drum. At trial the primary claim pursued was for fraudulent representation that the iron drum would work. This legal theory put punitive damages in play. For the trial, plaintiff’s president made a scale model of the factory and the drum for the jury to understand the importance of the drum in the process. This model helped the jury to understand the importance of the drum, and the fraud. Plaintiff won a $1.25 million verdict.
The PhD Thesis
Beyer v Beech Aircraft Co. (Birmingham, 1985)
The V-tail Bonanza airplane had a history of more than 500 airframe breakups in turbulence. The company blamed all crashes on loss of control over speed dives by the pilots. In this case, however, witnesses on the ground had both heard and seen the airplane break apart in the air. They saw the plane moving slowly and not diving. We found an engineer who had written his PhD thesis on crashes involving the V-tail Bonanza, which argued that the tail had a defective connection to the air frame which allowed it to break off in turbulence. We sponsored flight testing for the case. This testing showed that turbulence caused alternating load/no load on the V-tail design. This pattern of air loads acted like a hammer. This airframe couldn’t take it because of the tail’s spar was in the middle of the tail. The front half of the tail was not connected to the airplane, and would fold under and break off. The judge said this expert was the best witness he had seen in 30 years on the bench. After the $1.5 million verdict, the FAA issued an airworthiness directive changing the way the V-tail was connected to the airframe.