Pennsylvania court upholds $5.9 million verdict against Ford in vehicle crashworthiness lawsuit

by John Chapman

The Pennsylvania state Superior Court has upheld a $5.9 million verdict in favor of a man who was paralyzed when the airbag in his Mercury Sable failed to deploy in a head on collision. Following the crash, the driver, John Cancelleri, filed a lawsuit against the Ford Motor Company over the crashworthiness of the vehicle, alleging that the crash sensor and the restraint control module in the vehicle malfunctioned during his accident and were defectively designed.

According to his lawsuit against Ford, Cancelleri was driving his Mercury Sable when he was hit head on by a Ford Mustang. As a result of the collision, Cancelleri suffered a “massive” herniated disc, causing him to be paralyzed in his lower extremities.

Cancelleri filed a lawsuit against Ford, alleging that although the force of the collision exceeded the threshold for airbag deployment under Ford’s specification, the front airbag on his car failed to deploy during the crash. The lawsuit alleged strict product liability against Ford due to the vehicle’s insufficient crashworthiness and defective design.

In August 2014, a jury awarded Cancelleri and his wife a $5.9 million verdict for the injuries he sustained in the car accident. Ford appealed the verdict, stating that because of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Tincher v. Omega—a case involving how products liability cases are tried and litigated—the carmaker should be granted a new trial. Ford argued that the verdict in the case should be overturned because certain evidence regarding whether Cancelleri’s vehicle was unreasonably dangerous, as well as government and industry safety standards, should have been presented to the jury.

However, the Pennsylvania Superior Court agreed with arguments from Cancelleri’s attorneys stating that the state Supreme Court’s ruling in Tincher does not affect questions regarding vehicle crashworthiness in automobile product liability cases. The court upheld the jury’s verdict in the cases, stating that “the trial court’s determination that the jury instructions in this matter were neither erroneous nor prejudicial toward Ford.”

Auto accident lawsuits against carmakers filed over vehicle crashworthiness

Immediately after a car collision, there is a “second collision,” often more deadly than the first. This “second collision” is the driver and passengers colliding against the interior of their vehicle. The ability of a vehicle to protect the occupants of a automobile in a crash is called “vehicle crashworthiness.” The extent to which a car or truck has been designed to protect the occupants in a collision is called “vehicle crashworthiness”.

The cause of the “first collision”—a speeding driver, a driver not paying attention, a drunk driver, a driver running a red light, etc.— is generally considered irrelevant in crashworthiness cases. Instead, a crashworthiness case focuses on whether the vehicle manufacturer is responsible a problem with the car or truck that either caused or made worse the injuries suffered in the accident.

“Crashworthiness” refers broadly to many aspects of a vehicle (e.g., seat belts, crumple zones and airbags) that are intended to minimize occupant injuries, prevent ejection from the vehicle, and reduce the risk of fire. Car and truck manufacturers know that any vehicle they make can be involved in a collision. Thus, a car manufacturer’s duty to design a vehicle that is reasonably safe for all reasonably foreseeable uses includes a duty to design a vehicle that is reasonably safe when a collision occurs.

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured in a car accident, it may well be that the injuries were caused or made worse because the vehicle was not sufficiently crashworthy. In order to determine whether you may have a case, you need to retain experienced, qualified legal counsel at the earliest opportunity.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have the experience and knowledge to pursue a crashworthiness claim against any of the major auto manufacturers. We also have the financial resources to handle even the most complex cases from beginning to end. There are many instances when we have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a case in order to take it to trial. Our attorneys are committed to achieving justice for our clients, whatever the cost.

For a free legal consultation and to find out more about filing a vehicle crashworthiness lawsuit, contact the law firm of Heygood, Orr & Pearson. You can reach us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few simple questions to get started.

by John Chapman

John Chapman is a licensed attorney with experience in complex commercial litigation (including securities fraud, RICO, shareholder oppression, and derivative actions) and personal injury litigation.