July 21, 2017 Update: This article has been updated to include a statement from Ramon Llera's attorneys.
West Palm Beach, FL—Ford Motor Co. and the airbags in its 2003 Mustang were not responsible for a South Florida crash that killed a 20-year old, jurors found Tuesday in trial against the auto giant. Llera v. Ford Motor Co., 2005CA001924.
A state court jury in Florida’s 15th Circuit, in Palm Beach County, deliberated about 90 minutes before clearing Ford of liability for the early-morning crash that killed Anthony Llera in March 2003.
Llera died after he struck a tree and flipped the 2003 Ford Mustang he was driving. The crash, on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard, in West Palm Beach, also killed one passenger and injured two others.
Blood tests found Llera, who had allegedly been drinking before the accident, was legally intoxicated.
However, Llera’s father Ramon, claims the crash was caused by defective airbags in the car that deployed inappropriately when Llera's tire hit a curb, causing him to veer out of control, hitting the tree.
Ramon Llera’s attorney, The Zaretsky Law Group’s Max Zaretsky, requested about $2.4 million in damages during Tuesday’s closings.
The week-long trial centered on whether defective airbags or reckless driving ultimately caused the fatal crash.
Ramon Llera’s lawyers challenged the integrity of Llera's blood-alcohol results and argued evidence of damage to the car before the airbags’ deployment showed Llera's curb strike was insufficient to trigger the device. During Tuesday’s closing arguments, Zaretsky reminded jurors of expert testimony that he said showed the car’s fishtailing and curb strike did not meet the standards needed to deploy the airbags. “This was not a worsening event, but an improving event,” when the airbags deployed, Zaretsky said. “Based on Ford’s own standards, this airbag should not have deployed in this scenario."
However, the defense contended Llera was drunk, driving recklessly, and the airbags deployed only after a serious collision with a median. In Tuesday’s closings, McDonald Toole Wiggins’ Francis McDonald walked jurors through accident reconstruction, blood tests, and passenger testimony he said proved Llera’s driving caused the crash. McDonald added the car’s own relay control module, or RCM, read a strike serious enough to deploy the bags. “That component of that vehicle was the most alert and most awake aspect of the Mustang that morning, from the time those individuals left the bar until the time it read an impact that was significant enough for it to deploy,” McDonald said. “And it had nothing to do with Mr. Llera going out of control. It had nothing to do with Mr. Llera not being able to regain control.”
In an emailed statement after the verdict, McDonald told CVN "This was an unfortunate and tragic accident and our sympathy continues to go out to Mr. Llera and his family. We believe the jury's verdict is consistent with the evidence."
Llera's attorneys, Esther and Max Zaretsky, said in an emailed statement after the verdict, "Plaintiff regrets the jury did not find the defect in the restraint control module, which commanded the airbag to deploy in a no fire deceleration event, was a proximate cause of the crash. This loss is a tragedy for the entire Llera family."
Email Arlin Crisco at [email protected].
Ramon Llera is represented by The Zaretsky Law Group’s Esther Zaretsky, A. Max Zaretsky, and Daniel Franks.
Ford Motor Co. is represented by McDonald Toole Wiggins’ Francis McDonald, Sarah Long, and Courtney King, and Bowman & Brooke's Wendy Lumish and Alina Alonso Rodriguez.
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