Arkansas Supreme Court Dismisses Appeal of Multimillion-Dollar Defective Auto Verdict
As a Missouri motor vehicle accident attorney, I was interested to see another appeal by an auto manufacturer that didn’t like being held legally liable for apparently defective parts. In Ford Motor Co. v. Washington, Paulette Washington and the estate of Johnny Washington sued Ford and Karah Williams for their parts in the rollover accident that killed Johnny. Johnny Washington and his son, Terian Washington, were proceeding legally through an intersection when their Ford Explorer was hit by Williams, who ran a stop sign. Terian was not seriously injured, but Johnny was killed after the Explorer rolled over twice. The jury at Washington’s trial split the fault equally between Ford and Williams, and the Arkansas Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal because the judgment was not final.
Washington settled with Williams before trial and dismissed another defendant, leaving only Ford as a defendant. She alleged that the Explorer was defective for two reasons: it had a propensity to roll over, and the side windows were made of tempered glass instead of laminated glass, making them more likely to eject an occupant in a rollover. She alleged negligence, failure to warn, breach of warranty and strict liability. The court permitted Williams to be on the jury sheet in order to apportion fault, and the jury ultimately decided Williams and Ford were both 50% at fault for the injuries. It awarded more than $4.65 million in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages. Ford appealed, but the Arkansas Supreme Court dismissed the appeal because a third defendant had never been dismissed in writing. Ford now appeals again.
The Arkansas Supreme Court again dismissed the appeal, saying the order was not final because the exact dollar amounts owed by Williams and Ford had not been put in writing. Neither party raised the issue of jurisdiction, but the court found that Arkansas law requires a financial judgment to specify dollar amounts in writing, or the judgment is not final. In this case, however, the high court faulted the trial court for reproducing the jury’s written answers to interrogatories without spelling out whether Ford owed half of all the damages or just half of one or the other types of damages. Thus, it dismissed without prejudice for lack of jurisdiction. A dissent criticized the majority for prolonging the case despite the ease of dividing the damages in two. It also said the jury’s answers should be adequate final judgment because the jury is the finder of fact.
This case is largely about technicalities, which is a shame because the Washingtons will not get the money owed to them until the trial court issues a final written judgment. As a St. Louis defective auto parts lawyer, I know how badly families that have lost a loved one need that money. The loss of a husband and father usually means the loss of substantial family income, which in turn means the family has trouble paying bills almost immediately. The accident in this case was in 2000, which means they’ve been waiting 13 years for fair compensation from Ford. In addition, of course, they’ve suffered a great personal loss that has also gone uncompensated despite 13 years of missing birthdays and other important milestones. As a southern Illinois product defect attorney, I prefer to take serious accident cases early so I can help clients right away.
If you believe a defect in a consumer product, including a car, caused your serious accident, you should call Carey, Danis & Lowe for a free consultation. You can reach us at 1-877-678-3400 or send a message through our website.
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