Ford Escort Seat Back Defect Verdict for Plaintiff Affirmed

The Eastern Section of the Tennnessee Court of Appeals has affirmed a jury verdict for the plaintiff in a case involving the design of a seat back in a Ford Escort. The case is Potter v. Ford Motor Co., No. E2005-01578-COA-R3-CV; it was decided on June 21, 2006. The opinion was authored by Judge Sharon Lee.

Ford argued that “to establish a prima facie case, the plaintiff must prove ‘the availability of a technologically feasible and practical alternative design that would have reduced or prevented the plaintiff’s harm.” The Court disagreed, saying that no Tennessee state court had ever stated that Tennessee law placed that burden on a plaintiff. Judge Franks concurring, stating that while he agreed that what Ford said should be the law it was not the law of Tennessee.

[As I read the excerpts of the testimony of one of the plaintiff’s experts, the plaintiff introduced testimony that the plaintiff would not have been catastrophically injured if the Escort had been equipped with a belt integrated seat.]

Ford also argued that the trial judge erronously refused to instruct the jury on intervening cause, stating that the jury should have been told that a plaintiff’s conduct can be an intervening cause. Once again, the Court disagreed, saying “Ford has not cited any Tennessee case holding the plaintiff’s own negligent conduct to be an intervening, superseding cause, thereby cutting off his or her recovery, nor has our research revealed such a case.” Judge Lee and her colleagues went on to say that “applying the bar of intervening, superseding cause to a plaintiff’s negligent conduct would mark a return to the “all-or-nothing proposition” rejected in [Perez v.] McConkey. It is simply an unnecessary analysis when a much more refined and better legal tool – comparative negligence and comparative fault – is now available.”

Finally, Ford argued that the jury verdict form and instructions regarding enhanced injury was in error. The Court held that the trial judge properly followed the law as articulated in another Ford Escort case, Cruze v. Ford Motor Co., No. 03A01-9907-CV-00245, 1999 WL 1206798 (Tenn. Ct. App. E.S., Dec. 16, 1999).

Judge Lee’s opinion is here. Judge Frank’s concurring opinion is here.