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Fri, Nov 10, 2006
The LACar Editorial Staff
The new ones are improved, but are they still vulnerable to lawsuits?
SUV CASE WILL KEEP HAUNTING
Automakers' pleas went unanswered as the California Supreme Court refused to
review or de-publish a ruling that leaves Ford Motor Company on the hook for
probably expose the auto industry to greater liability for defective vehicles."
Theodore Boutrous Jr. of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the law firm that represents
Ford in the case,
Buell-Wilson v. Ford Motor Comoany (S146150). told The Recorder that the court's decision "leaves
California product liability law in a state of havoc." Boutrous asserts that
the underlying ruling "is bad for both businesses and consumers and violates
"The automobile industry has had its eyes on the case since June 2004, when San
Diego jurors awarded Benetta Buell-Wilson more than $368 million in damages
after she was paralyzed when her Ford Explorer rolled over on Interstate 8,"
says McKee. Of that amount, $246 million was for punitive damages. Jurors
evidently felt Ford had acted reprehensibly and had taken no steps to correct
design flaws that made the vehicle prone to rollovers. San Diego County
Superior Court Judge Kevin Enright subsequently reduced the overall award to
$150 million. Then four months ago, the 4th District Court of Appeal cut it
even further, to $82.6 million, reports McKee.
"In his petition for review, Boutrous argued that the trial court judge had
erred in computing punitive damages. Even more worrisome to automakers, he
added, the judge had prevented Ford from introducing critical evidence on
industry safety standards," says McKee. "In particular, he wrote, Judge Enright
refused to let Ford present evidence that would have shown the Explorer was one
of the safest sport utility vehicles on the road."
According to The Recorder, Ford's petition was supported in amicus
curiae briefs filed by Nissan Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler Corp., American Honda
Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Co., Mercedes-Benz USA, the Alliance of Automobile
Manufacturers, the Product Liability Advisory Council, the California Chamber
of Commerce and the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America. - Roy Nakano