Automakers are a formidable force to oppose and alleging their product to be defective is a certain way to cause them to circle the wagons. Donna Grimes and her family discovered just how tough fighting a battle with an auto maker can be when she took on Ford Motor Company. A jury awarded her $10,373,552 after two trials and six grueling years.
Donna Grimes was driving her 2000 Ford Explorer and wearing her seatbelt. She was at a stop when a vehicle, traveling at approximately 58 miles per hour, rear-ended her. If her vehicle had functioned properly, even that significant impact would have resulted in minimal or no injury. In fact, the driver of the other vehicle (Charles Kravitz) walked away from the accident relatively uninjured. Ms. Grimes, tragically, was rendered a quadriplegic and will require substantial care for the rest of her life.
Testimony in the trial demonstrated that Ford’s seat design allowed the seat back to collapse backwards.In a rear impact collision, the recliner teeth in the recliner mechanism sheared off causing the seat back to collapse backwards onto the rear seat. Ford knew about this problem and did not change its design. The jury obviously concluded that Ford allowed a defective product to enter the market place.
From prior history, Ford and other manufacturers take an approach to defend these cases by adopting the “scorched earth defense”. In this approach, the defendant defends every case, regardless of their fault and regardless of the significance of injuries suffered by the victim. In the “scorched earth defense”, the defendant delays progress of the litigation as long as possible; it raises every possible obstacle; it runs up costs; and it never offers to settle a case for its true value. The point of this approach is to intimidate the plaintiff, to financially exhaust the plaintiff’s lawyers, and to make the litigation as painful as possible so that the lawyer will hesitate to file another lawsuit in the future.
Does Ford do this? Well, six years and two trials later, Donna Grimes finally received justice. Unfortunately, she will also have to wait for the determination of post-trial motions and the inevitable appeal that will follow.