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Updates in Tort Law Don’t Rid Ford of $6 Million Verdict on Appeal (PA)

January 22, 2016

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The Superior Court of Pennsylvania denied a motion for a new trial and/or judgment notwithstanding the verdict filed by Ford Motor Company after a jury award of $5,940,706.86  in <a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Cancelleri-v.-Ford-Motor-Co..Superior-Court-Opinion.pdf" rel="">Cancelleri v. Ford Motor Co.</a>
In August 2010, John Cancelleri was driving south on Pennsylvania Route 307 in his 2005 Mercury Sable. Suddenly, a 2007 Ford Mustang travelling in the opposite direction turned left into his path and crashed into the front left side of his vehicle. During the collision, Cancelleri was wearing his seatbelt, but his airbag failed to deploy, which allowed his head to hit the windshield. Following the accident, Cancelleri was confined to a wheelchair due to a disc herniation and spinal cord compression.
The Cancelleris sued, among others, Ford, the company that manufactured the Mercury Sable, on the theories of negligence, strict liability, breach of implied warranty of fitness and/ merchantability, punitive damages and loss of consortium. The jury unanimously found in favor of the Cancilleris on their claims of crashworthiness design defect and loss of consortium.
The primary argument that Ford raised on appeal, was that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in <em>Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc. </em>allowed a more accommodating standard of proof in a determination of whether a product is in defective condition in strict product liability cases. <em>Tincher</em> held that “when a plaintiff proceeds on a theory that implicates a risk-utility calculus, proof of risks and utilities are part of the burden to prove that the harm suffered was due to the defective condition of the product. The credibility of witnesses and testimony offered, the weight of evidence relevant to the risk-utility calculus, and whether a party has met the burden to prove the elements of the strict liability cause of action are issues for the finder of fact.” <em>Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., 104 A.3d 328, 407 (Pa. 2014)</em>
Ford argued that under <em>Tincher</em>, the trial court should have submitted the question of whether the vehicle was unreasonably dangerous and that the jury should have been asked to consider risk-utility factors in making its determination.
The appeals court rejected these arguments because <em>Tincher</em> did not specifically involve a crashworthiness case and was “not intended as a rigid formula to be offered to the jury in all situations.” The Court noted that “in crashworthiness cases, the jury is required to determine whether the vehicle was defective in design as well as whether an alternative safer, and practicable design existed at the time of design that could have been used instead… the jury’s considerations in crashworthiness cases, including the instant matter, already involve[d] proof of risks and utilities regarding whether the harm suffered was due to the defective condition of the product.”
Thanks to Sathima Jones for her contribution.
For more information, contact Denise Fontana Ricci at <a href="mailto:dricci@wcmlaw.com"><u>dricci@wcmlaw.com</u></a>.
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