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Ford Motor Co. Hit with Setback in Wrongful Death Case

Published March 29, 2016 by Anthony Jones, II

A recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals allows the estate of a woman who died from severe injuries in a car accident to pursue a wrongful death case against Ford Motor Co.

The woman suffered a broken back and paralysis, which ultimately led to her death, when the Ford Tempo she was driving was rear-ended by a dump truck.

The case has a long procedural history.

In the initial trial held in 2009, the estate obtained a $3 million verdict against Ford Motor Co. At trial, the estate introduced evidence to support its allegation that the car’s seat back was defectively designed. The seat back collapsed in the collision, causing the woman’s injuries. In the first trial, the estate also argued that Ford breached its duty to recall the Tempo.

However, the Georgia Court of Appeals overturned the jury verdict on the basis that the trial judge erroneously gave instructions to the jury on the car manufacturer’s duty to recall. The court said Georgia law does not recognize this type of ongoing legal duty for manufacturers of consumer goods.

Ford prevailed at the second trial. The estate filed an appeal, but also requested a new trial on the basis that Ford in responding to pre-trial requests for information (known as discovery) withheld important information about its insurance coverage.

The trial judge agreed with the estate and ordered a new trial. The judge concluded that Ford’s response to the request for information about its insurance coverage was designed to be misleading. Ford said it had sufficient funds to pay any “reasonable judgment” against it and did not divulge whether it had any insurance coverage related to the accident.

It turns out that the self-insured funds held by Ford dipped from $25 million to $2 million at the time of the first trial, which meant Ford would have had to turn to its excess insurance carriers to pay the $3 million judgment that was eventually overturned.

The estate was entitled to know of any insurance coverage that applied to the case, the trial judge ruled, because under Georgia law the right to an impartial jury requires that prospective jurors be “qualified” as to any financial relationship they may have with the insurance providers.

The Georgia Appeals Court on Feb. 7 upheld the trial court judge’s decision granting a new trial.

The recent decision by the Appeals Court indicates that courts in Georgia will not tolerate gamesmanship in pre-trial discovery if it potentially affects core legal rights – such as the right to an impartial jury.

If you have been injured in a car accident that was not your fault, talk to the Georgia personal injury attorneys at The Millar Law Firm. For a free consultation, contact us today.

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