Man unsure of the safety of his medicine

Breaking news and expert analysis on legal and compliance issues

[Back To Home][Back To Archives]

From Products Liability Law Daily, August 30, 2016

Jury’s $4.7M award in defective airbag litigation reduced by driver’s negligence

By Pamela C. Maloney, J.D.

A federal jury in South Carolina awarded a total of $4,650,000 in damages to the family of an SUV driver who was injured in a one-car accident during which his airbag failed, finding that the airbag system in the driver’s 2010 Ford Escape had been defectively designed. The driver, who committed suicide a year and a half after the accident, was found to be 30 percent at fault, thereby reducing the total award to $3,255,000. The jury denied the family’s request for punitive damages (Wickersham v. Ford Motor Co., August 26, 2016).

The SUV driver, who had a history of mental illness, was injured in a single-car accident when his 2010 Ford Escape hit a tree after the driver made a left turn. The driver sustained significant injuries, including the eventual loss of one eye, and he suffered severe pain as a result of the accident. Seventeen months later, he committed suicide. His wife, alleging that failed airbags caused both the injuries and the suicide, filed suit in South Carolina federal district court against Ford Motor Company. She asserted claims both individually and as her husband’s representative for negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty.

Ford filed a motion for summary judgment, making three arguments: (1) the wife’s claims failed to show the existence of a feasible alternative design; (2) the suicide broke the causal chain in a wrongful death claim; and (3) punitive damages were inappropriate under these facts. The court found genuine issues of material fact on all three matters and denied Ford’s motion for summary judgment on insufficient alternative design, suicide as a breaker of proximate cause, and the insufficiency of punitive damages. The court, however, granted Ford’s motion for summary judgment on the wife’s failure-to-warn claim [see Products Liability Law Daily’s July 12, 2016 analysis].

Jury’s verdict. The jury itemized its verdict as follows:

  • $1,250,000 for the pain and suffering experienced by the SUV driver between the date of the accident and the time of his death;
  • $650,000 for his wife’s loss of consortium from the date of the accident until the time of his death;
  • $1,375,000 for his wife’s loss of consortium after the driver’s death; and
  • $1,375,000 in wrongful death damages for the driver’s beneficiaries.

The case is No. 9:13-cv-1192-DCN.

Attorneys: Donnie Charles Gibson (Don C. Gibson Law Firm) for Crystal L. Wickersham. Carmelo B. Sammataro (Turner Padget Graham and Laney) for Ford Motor Co.

Companies: Ford Motor Co.

MainStory: TopStory JuryVerdictsNewsStory DamagesNews DesignManufacturingNews WarningsNews

Back to Top

Products Liability Law Daily

Introducing Wolters Kluwer Products Liability Law Daily — a daily reporting service created by attorneys, for attorneys — providing same-day coverage of breaking news, court decisions, legislation, and regulatory activity.


A complete daily report of the news that affects your world

  • View full summaries of federal and state court decisions.
  • Access full text of legislative and regulatory developments.
  • Customize your daily email by topic and/or jurisdiction.
  • Search archives for stories of interest.

Not just news — the right news

  • Get expert analysis written by subject matter specialists—created by attorneys for attorneys.
  • Track law firms and organizations in the headlines with our new “Who’s in the News” feature.
  • Promote your firm with our new reprint policy.

24/7 access for a 24/7 world

  • Forward information with special copyright permissions, encouraging collaboration between counsel and colleagues.
  • Save time with mobile apps for your BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad, Android, or Kindle.
  • Access all links from any mobile device without being prompted for user name and password.