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From Products Liability Law Daily, October 16, 2015

Pennsylvania courts’ refusal to admit NHTSA rulemaking and studies challenged

By Pamela C. Maloney, J.D.

The parents and guardians of a minor child, in a petition for review by the U.S. Supreme Court, have challenged the Pennsylvania Superior Court’s en banc decision affirming a trial court’s evidentiary rulings that failed to give deference to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s roof crush resistance regulations (Parr v. Ford Motor Co., cert. filed October 13, 2015).

Background. Joseph and April Parr, individually and as parents and guardians of their minor daughter, Samantha, sued Ford Motor Company, the manufacturer of their 2001 Ford Excursion, and McCafferty Ford Sales, the dealership that sold them the vehicle, following a rollover accident that left April Parr and Samantha Parr severely injured. The Parrs contended that the injuries sustained by April and Samantha were caused by roof crush that occurred when the vehicle rolled over down an embankment. The Parrs filed a strict products liability claim against the defendants alleging that the Excursion’s roof and restraint system were defectively designed. Following a jury trial, a verdict was entered in favor of the defendants because the Parrs failed to prove that the vehicle had been defective when it left the control of the manufacturer or that an alternative, safer design existed. The Pennsylvania Superior Court, sitting en banc, rejected the Parr’s appeal challenging several pretrial evidentiary rulings and one aspect of the court’s charge to the jury.

Petitioners’ arguments. In urging the High Court to accept their petition, the petitioners argued that the motor vehicle industry should not be allowed to continue to defend rollover cases on the basis of diving/torso augmentation theory because (1) it was contrary to the laws of science; (2) NHTSA had debunked this theory as part of its authorized rulemaking process; (3) engineers, not jurors, should decide how people are killed and/or injured in rollover accidents; (4) the date of a vehicle’s manufacture should have no relationship to later epidemiological studies and to NHTSA rules and regulations; (5) epidemiological studies and statistical data have demonstrated that as roof strength has increased over the past 10 years, the number of deaths and crippling injuries has decreased; (6) epidemiological evidence and statistical data assists jurors and should be admissible even if accidents were not identical; and (7) virtually everyone, including the motor vehicle industry, has recognized that strong roofs are important to saving lives.

Questions presented. The petitions have asked the High Court to determine whether the Pennsylvania Superior Court en banc, erred in failing to give due deference to the Secretary of Transportation under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 and the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinions in Daubert and Kumho Tire in:

  1. allowing the automobile manufacturer’s product liability defense of “diving” and “torso augmentation” in civil cases subsequent to NHTSA’s May 12, 2009 final rule, which established that “roof crush,” not “diving” or “torso augmentation,” causes death and crushing injuries in rollover accidents?
  2. precluding references to NHTSA standards and rulemaking documents subsequent to the 2001 Excursion manufacture date? and
  3. precluding epidemiological statistical evidence prepared by NHTSA, IIHS, FARS, and/or NASS relating to rollover fatalities and injuries.

The case is Docket No. 15-482.

Attorneys: Richard C. Angino (Angino & Lutz, PC) for Joseph Parr.

Companies: Ford Motor Co.; McCafferty Ford Sales, Inc.

MainStory: TopStory MotorEquipmentNews SupremeCourtNews

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