Bloomberg News

Ford Wins Reversal of $43 Million Award in Fatal Crash Case

September 22, 2011

(Updates with Ford comment in ninth and 10th paragraphs.)

Sept. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Ford Motor Co. won reversal of an Illinois jury’s $43 million damage award holding the company liable in a 2003 crash that killed a 73-year-old man and severely burned his wife.

The Illinois Supreme Court today threw out the verdict from a 2005 trial, ruling that Dora Jablonski and the estate of her husband, John, failed to prove the placement of the gas tank in their 1993 Lincoln Town Car constituted a defective design.

The Jablonskis car burst into flames after it was rear- ended by another vehicle traveling from 55 to 65 miles an hour while they were stopped at a highway construction zone in southwest Illinois. The crash caused an item in the trunk to pierce the tank.

“Plaintiffs presented insufficient evidence from which a jury could conclude that Ford breached its duty of reasonable care” on any one of three negligent design theories, the high court said. It rejected a fourth argument as not viable under state law.

The trial at the state courthouse in Edwardsville spanned 11 days during which the jury heard both lay- and expert-witness testimony and examined hundreds of exhibits, according to the Supreme Court ruling written by Justice Mary Jane Theis.

Tank Location

The Jablonskis’ lawyer argued the location of the fuel tank, behind the Lincoln’s rear axle, left it vulnerable in rear-end collisions.

Ford maintained that the car’s design and tank location complied with industry standards, and only the driver of the other car had been negligent.

Bradley M. Lakin, the Wood River, Illinois, attorney who took the case to trial, didn’t immediately reply to telephone messages seeking comment on today’s ruling.

“Ford is gratified by the court’s decision,” Marcey Evans, a spokeswoman for the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker, said in an e-mail.

“The 1993 Town Car exceeded all federal crash safety standards,” she said. “While the Jablonskis were victims of a tragic accident caused by a distracted driver who rear-ended them at 60 miles per hour, it was unfair to blame Ford for their injuries.”

Jablonski v. Ford Motor Co., Illinois Supreme Court, 2011IL110096 (Springfield).

--Editors: Stephen Farr, Fred Strasser

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in Chicago at aharris16@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net


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