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Product Liability: 1997 Ford Escort Faulty Seatback

Most auto product liability lawyers will tell you that a faulty seatback can cause serious personal injuries. In 2002, Betty Potter was driving her 1997 Ford Escort toward Crossville, Tennessee when she entered a curve and slid off the rain-slicked road. Her life would never be the same again.

Crashing into a road sign, spinning around and slamming backwards into a tree at about 30 mph, Potter's seat collapsed, allowing her to be ejected backwards into the backseat of the vehicle. She did so with such force that it fractured several of her ribs and vertebrae, and tragically, severed her spinal cord. This left her paralyzed from the chest down. She has lost the ability to walk, control her bladder or bowels, and can't tend to her daily needs. She is dependent on her husband and others to take care of her.

Betty along with her husband sued Ford Motor Company, alleging that the seat back of their Escort was a defective auto product. She further alleged that the company was negligent in that it designed, manufactured, and distributed the Escort with a seat frame of inadequate strength to prevent the seat back from collapsing in a foreseeable rear-end car collision.

At trial, Ms. Potter's attorneys presented the testimony of a design-engineering expert who concluded that the Ford Escort seat was unable to absorb enough energy generated by the collision to prevent it from collapsing in an uncontrolled fashion. The engineer further stated that in the quasi-static test, the Escort's seat failed at a load of "a little over 1,000 pounds," whereas other available seat designs, some of which had been incorporated into other Ford vehicles, failed at loads ranging from over 2,000 pounds to over 4,500 pounds. He also described several and various seat designs that were in commercial use at the time of the Escort's manufacture, and that these were engineered to withstand and absorb significantly more energy in a rear-end car crash and thus be less likely to collapse uncontrollably. Finally, he noted that the estimated cost to Ford of incorporating a stronger seat design "would be roughly four-and-a-half to maybe seven dollars, depending on the volume."

"This is so typical of what many car makers have done, noted nationally recognized motor vehicle defect lawyer, Brian Chase. "They save a few dollars per car and let the consumer take the risks of driving a vehicle whose seats are woefully inadequate, even in a low speed car accident."

Ford Motor Company denied negligence in the case or that the Escort's seat was defective. It alleged that Ms. Potter's comparative negligence was greater than Ford's and that her conduct superseded its own negligence, if any. Ford also argued on appeal that the circumstances of the case were "bizarre" and entirely unforeseeable. Ford continued asserting that it could not be expected to foresee that a seriously overweight plaintiff would be driving in the rain on badly worn tires, lose control of the car, and collide backwards into a tree at roughly 30 miles an hour.

"Shifting the blame to the driver's weight, the weather and worn tires are typical "smoke and mirrors" tactics big car makers use to avoid responsibility for their unsafe designs," said nationally recognized product liability lawyer John Bisnar. "The facts indisputably point to a seat design that is faulty."

The Court replied, indicating that Ford need not be able to foresee the exact manner in which the injury takes place, only that it foresee the general manner in which the injury or loss occurred.

The jury was charged with deciding to what degree each party in the lawsuit was at fault, and then assessing damages. After deliberating, the jury found that Ford Motor Company was at fault 70 percent and Betty Potter was at fault 30 percent. It subsequently awarded the Potters $7 million.

"Taking on an automotive giant like Ford can be a daunting task," noted Brian Chase. "The Potters did the right thing seeking a remedy for their injuries and suffering, going after Ford and perhaps preventing other accident victims from suffering needlessly for Ford's disregard for the safety of its customers. It is our hope that this lawsuit and the many lawsuits we have filed against car makers will convince them to improve their vehicles and make them safer for consumers."

If you or a loved one has suffered serious injuries as the result of a defective auto part or vehicle, contact the experienced California auto products liability attorneys at Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys for a free consultation. We will use our extensive knowledge and resources to achieve the best possible results for you and your family.


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Disclaimer: The legal information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice, nor the formation of an attorney-client relationship. Any results set forth here were dependent on the facts of that case and the results will differ from case to case. Bisnar Chase serves all of California. In addition, we represent clients in various other states through our affiliations with local law firms. Through the local firm we will be admitted to practice law in their state, pro hac vice.

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