Ford Wins Vehicle Seat Defect Trial

Posted by msch on Jul 23, 2010 12:05:00 PM

Attorneys Jay Schuttert and Tom Christensen in closing arguments for Scheer v. FordThe defense took a complete victory in Scheer v. Ford. Plaintiff Patricia Scheer claimed that leg and neck injuries resulted from a design defect in the 1999 Mercury Mountaineer's seat back.

According to plaintiff attorney Thomas Christensen, Ford "knowingly chose a design that allows the occupant to slide up the seat back into the back seat area, then slide forward under the seat belt into the dash area without restraint, causing severe injuries..."

"In this case, Ford claims  the seat acted exactly as Ford engineers knew it would. Not one piece of evidence showing that design has been shown to you...We haven't seen any blueprints. We haven't seen one letter from some Ford engineer saying, 'I know -- we'll make this design this way.' That's because this is a post-injury design that Ford has come up with."

"They did know it would break, however, because they've done a bunch of tests and knew that these seats break...those tests also the jury has not seen."

"As a result of this so-called 'good design,' Patricia was severely injured, and in just the way that tests showed that the weak seat could be expected to injure her -- that is, dumping her into the back seat, and then having her slide into the front seat. The dumping into the back seat causes her to be unable to control her vehicle and keep it from colliding with anything in front of her. The defendant could have prevented this from happening if it had chosen to put their stronger seat in the vehicle -- a seat that they had."

On Ford's behalf, Snell & Wilmer's Jay Schuttert claimed that the seat was not defectively designed, and in any case did not cause Ms. Scheer's injuries. Mr. Schuttert reminded the jury that one of the expert witnesses had characterized the Mountaineer's seat strength as "about average, middle of the road," and it was three times stronger than the federal requirement.

According to Mr. Schuttert, the seat behaved as was reasonably expected. It did not break, snap or collapse -- it yielded as it was designed to do. Mr. Schuttert pointed out that the plaintiff's expert's design philosophy, which would have called for much stronger seats, was at odds with the entire auto industry and the federal government.

Moreover, said Mr. Schuttert, the seat did not cause Ms. Scheer's neck injury because she was not, in fact, thrown into the back seat, nor did she slide forward under the belt, as the plaintiff claimed. Instead, her neck injury and leg injuries resulted from the force of the impact, not the seat's behavior. Finally, Ms. Scheer's injuries resulting from the crash were "minor," and she had "all kinds of degenerative injuries" that she was trying to pin on Ford.

"The last thing in the world Ms. Scheer would have wanted in this crash would have been a stiffer seat," said Mr. Schuttert, "because it would have exposed her to additional and more serious injuries...and...any claim that Ford should have given a different or additional warning with the Mountaineer is sort of silly, since...after the crash Ms. Scheer just went out and bought another 1999 Mercury Mountaineer." Mr. Schuttert concluded that if Ms. Scheer really thought the Mountaineer was defective she "would have avoided that product like the bubonic plague and bought something different."

The jury found in favor of the defendant.

CVN webcast Scheer v. Ford live, gavel-to-gavel. Snell & Wilmer won another Ford defective seat case last year in Sorci v. Ford. In Wheeler v. Ford, Butler Wooten, and Fryhofer's James Butler recovered $17M+ for injuries resulting from a Ford Explorer's defective rear seat protection system. Watch all three cases on CVN.

Topics: Scheer v. Ford, Products Liability, Vehicle Defect