Defending a product liability suit involving a fatal accident carries a host of built-in difficulties. Jurors are inherently sympathetic to the family of the victim and prone to believing what may be 20-20 hindsight and post-incident product criticism. To overcome these hurdles, a strong defense must both delve into the technical details that led to a manufacturer’s decision and highlight those details with clear, powerful language that makes the decision logical. In Emmanuel v. Ford Motor Co., Kevin Schirferl uses his powerful closing argument to persuade that Ford’s design decisions did not cause Jonathan Emmanuel’s death.
Danilo Emmanuel and Rose-May Fleurine sued the car manufacturer claiming that its decision not to include electronic stability control as a standard feature on its 2005 model Ford Focus led to an accident that killed Jonathan Emmanuel. However, Ford denied negligence in its design.
At the trial’s conclusion, Kevin Schiferl, one of the country’s foremost product liability defense lawyers, masterfully summed up two weeks worth of testimony and design evidence while arguing that the jury should apply its common sense. “After this accident happened in 2006, it’s only natural for people to ask why,” Schiferl acknowledged to jurors, before arguing that plaintiffs failed to prove the lack of stability control rendered the car unsafe.
Schiferl reminded jurors plaintiffs presented only one witness who testified that cars that could have ESC but did not include the safety feature were defective. Schiferl then highlighted the relatively small number of 2005-model vehicles that offered stability control as a standard feature. “These would be the only cars that the motoring public in the United States could have bought that meet (plaintiff’s expert’s) standard of no defect,” Schiferl said.
Beyond arguing the lack of plaintiffs’ evidence, Schiferl went further, challenging the integrity of his opposing counsel’s argument. Claiming that the two plaintiffs themselves did not drive vehicles equipped with stability control, Schiferl asked the jury, “If you start asking the question why something happened and information is garnered, don’t you think, before you come into the courtroom it might be important, if you’re going to (cast) blame, if you do nothing else (as an attorney, tell your client), ‘Rose-May, Danielo, I gotta tell you, our expert thinks vehicles without ESC are defective, and you’re driving right now with those vehicles.’” Schiferl's rhetorical question turns the inquiry to his opposing counsel and their beliefs in the veracity of own their argument.
It’s a closing that masterfully combined technical evidence with threads of logic designed to appeal to the jury's reasoning, and it set the stage for a defense win.
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