In a lawsuit involving a rollover accident, Ford Motor Company avoided revealing that it had insurance, but that information eventually came out. The revelation led the Georgia Supreme Court to overturn a jury verdict in favor of the auto manufacturer and order a new trial.
A mother had sued Ford after her boy was severely injured in a rollover car accident that also killed the boy’s grandmother.
Before trial,the mother had asked Ford to divulge any insurance it might have available, as Georgia law allows. In response, Ford said it had sufficient resources to cover any judgment, in effect implying that it was self-insured and did not have insurance with any insurance carriers.
The law also requires potential jurors to reveal any relationship they might have with an insurance company to ensure a fair and impartial jury. Because Ford failed to reveal that it had insurance coverage, the jury members were not questioned about any relationship they might have had with insurance companies. The jury eventually reached a verdict in favor of Ford.
Following the trial, it came to light in a separate products liability case involving a another rollover accident that Ford did in fact carry insurance for products liability cases and that it routinely did not disclose this information in pre-trial discovery.
The mother’s attorney then sought a new trial, which the trial court judge allowed, prompting Ford to file an appeal.
The Georgia Supreme Court upheld the order for a new trial. While acknowledging that it is normally difficult to obtain a new trial once a jury has reached a verdict, the court decided that Ford’s deliberate concealment justified a new trial.
Because Ford intentionally misled the plaintiff into believing it had no insurance policies, the court excused the decision by the plaintiff’s attorney not to ask jurors in the original trial about any relationships they might have had with insurance companies.
Another key point underlying the court’s decision is that Georgia law presumes a plaintiff is harmed when jurors are not asked about any insurance company connections they might have.
The court’s ruling demonstrates the vitality of a fair and impartial jury in our state’s civil trial system, and that parties should not play fast and loose with their obligations to disclose important information before trial when asked to do so.
The case is Ford Motor Co. v. Conley.
Talk to a personal injury lawyer experienced in handling car accidents if you or a family member has been seriously injured in a crash. A knowledgeable lawyer will explain your legal options at no cost.