Jury not asked to blame driver, does so anyway

by Walter Olson on April 7, 2008

“A Washington state woman who sued Ford Motor over her injuries in an SUV rollover accident isn’t exactly thrilled that a jury cleared the automaker — and awarded her $6 million in damages against her sister, who was the driver of the vehicle. … The federal jury in Spokane, Wash., found Marla Bear 100 percent at fault for losing control of the SUV, in which her younger sister was a passenger. According to trial testimony, the car swerved when she looked over her shoulder to see if Crystal had her seat belt attached.” Ford’s own attorney, whether for tactical reasons of sympathy or otherwise, had advised the jury against blaming the sister. (Matthew Heller, OnPoint News, Mar. 20) (via The Briefcase).

{ 5 comments }

1 hoptoit 04.07.08 at 9:30 pm

Three surreal quotes in the article that caught my eye were “They blamed my sister, and that’s retarded,” “You shouldn’t brand her with her sister’s injuries… I say that even if it hurts my client,”and “Now, the taxpayers will have to pick up the costs of supporting this woman for the rest of her life.”

2 Todd Rogers 04.07.08 at 10:29 pm

These comments from the usual suspects always make me think of exactly one person: my five year old son. The parents in this blog’s audience know exactly what I’m saying: “But Daaaad, it wasn’t my fault that…(insert kid-error)…” Carry it forward, if you don’t correct your kids and follow through with your disciplinary threats, they establish new boundaries that they enjoy and you regret…much like oh…say, ridiculous legal theories perhaps, which shirk and even mock personal responsibility?

What was the character’s name on Allie McBeal who was like ten and practiced law but stomped his feet every time the judge ruled against him?

3 Jason Barney 04.07.08 at 10:34 pm

This is really an interesting story. First, the storyline that makes claims investigators shudder, “The accident occurred while the [family] drove to church …” Not, “after a long night at the tavern …” Sympathy = settlement value.

The plaintiff’s sister was “briefly” distracted when she looked over her shoulder to see if the plaintiff was buckled up. This caused a steering overcorrection that led to the rollover accident. I don’t understand how briefly looking over your shoulder would lead to such a drastic overcorrection any more than a left-right-left check at an intersection or checking your blind spot. There’s more to that part of the story, I suspect. And, you’re supposed to buckle up before you move the vehicle, not when driving down the road and subject to “careen” down an embankment.

“They blamed my sister, and that’s retarded’’. Huh? It’s surely debatable but she was driving—so just how retarded is it? Might she somehow be responsible, or is it simply a factor of her ability to pay?

“You shouldn’t brand her with her sister’s injuries,’’ [Ford’s attorney] said in his closing argument. “I say that even if it hurts my client.’’ Brave, sir—very brave.

The plaintiff’s attorney says, “The cold reality of this jury verdict is that neither Crystal nor her attorneys will get a single penny because of the very limited insurance that Marla had at the time of the accident … Now, the taxpayers will have to pick up the costs of supporting this woman for the rest of her life.’’

Who cares if the attorney gets any money? It’s called “contingent” fee for a reason, and you knew that darn well going in. And, his “taxpayer” argument is a bit demagogic suggesting that we all pay one way or the other—but, if Ford pays he gets to carve out his fee.

Plaintiff attorney Eymann also said, “All the experts believe that the Ford Explorer is safer with regard to stability and handling than the Bronco II. It’s ironic that in one court there’s this $82 million verdict, and in this case Ford escapes liability for the Bronco II.”

Vehicles customarily get safer with newer models, so what? And, yes it may be ironic that in one case there’s an $82M verdict and in this one it’s zero (for Ford). But what if it were first zero and then $82M for his client? Is it ironic then? And, what facts varied between the two cases?

4 William Nuesslein 04.08.08 at 9:43 am

The key factor in the instant case is the embankment. A car going over an embankment forms a dramatic moment in many movies and TV shows – sometimes the car rolls over, sometime not; sometimes there is a fiery ending, sometimes not.

I am critical of American juries. They often embarrass me. The jury in this case seems to have got it right. Good for them.

I see no problem with taxpayers as a whole paying for the the woman’s treatment. When the payments come from deep pockets, there is little constraint on costs, and there often are residuals that go in lottery fashion to shirt-tail relatives upon the death of the plaintiff.

5 Matthew 04.08.08 at 11:54 am

Todd,

I think the character on Ally McBeal’s name was something like “Geoffrey Fieger”.

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