An attorney for the widow of a man killed in a Ford Explorer rollover accident asked the Ninth Circuit to revive her wrongful death lawsuit saying jurors should have been instructed that the design defects are measured against consumers’ reasonable expectations. Brian Chase, senior partner at the Newport Beach auto defect law firm of Bisnar Chase represented Lupi Edwards whose husband, Fiailoa Edwards, 55, died in the rollover crash.
The lawsuit was first filed in September 2012 against Ford. Edwards died in the crash that occurred on the Interstate 5. The 2002 Ford Explorer Sport Trac he was driving at the time rolled over when Edwards attempted to swerve to avoid crashing into vehicles stopping suddenly in front of him. In March 2015, a jury unanimously ruled in Ford’s favor finding that there was no defect in the design of the Ford SUV.
Argument Seeking Retrial
On Friday, Chase argued on behalf of the Edwards family that the district court denied the plaintiffs the opportunity to try their claims using the “consumer expectations” test for defects. Chase told the court: “You’ve got a vehicle that’s marketed as a rough and tumble vehicle that is built ‘Ford Tough,’ you can take them off road and you are warned they are prone to rolling over. The ordinary consumer would have some sort of minimum safety expectation that the roof of that vehicle would act as a roll cage or a safety cage and not catastrophically fail and collapse in on the occupant.”
An attorney for Ford argued that the lower court did not make a mistake with the jury instruction. California law states that if the average consumer is unable to determine how a particular vehicle part should respond in a crash, expert opinion is needed. A 1994 California Supreme Court case, Soule v. General Motors Corp. holds that the ordinary consumer “has no idea how safe an automobile can be made for all foreseeable situations.”
Chase said that when a vehicle rolls over, it is reasonable to expect some deformation of the roof. However, he added, in Edwards’ case, the roof caved in “as if it were made out of aluminum foil.” Edwards was partially ejected from the vehicle with no roof covering him.
“He was exposed to the elements and getting killed every time this thing rolled over,” Chase said.
He asked the appellate court to send the case back for retrial. The matter is under submission.
Ford Could Have Made Roof Stronger
Chase also mentioned during his arguments that it would have cost Ford very little to make the roof of the Explorer stronger. This was evidenced in vehicle rollover and drop tests the firm conducted, he said. He maintained that consumers in such cases do have a reasonable expectation that the roof of a vehicle would be able to reasonably withstand the impact of a rollover crash. The automaker had the ability to make the roof stronger for a mere $40, but didn’t, Chase said.