Ford Motor Co.'s $150,000 settlement of a product liability claim by an accident victim's estate means the company does not have to pay part of a larger jury verdict against the driver who caused the accident, the Massachusetts Appeals Court has ruled.
A three-judge panel in Boston said Ford has no further obligation because it settled in good faith with the estate of 18-month-old Todd Slocum, who was struck and killed when Robert Donahue backed out of a driveway in a 1987 Grand Marquis.
Donahue admitted that he had been drinking before the accident.
Ford spokesman Jim Cain said the company is pleased by the decision.
Donahue's lawyer, Virginia Casey Goscinak, has asked the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to review the case.
Donahue, who pleaded guilty to motor vehicle homicide, blamed the accident on a 'defective' driver's-side door mat.
He claimed he inadvertently pushed the mat under the throttle and that the engine raced, causing the Grand Marquis to accelerate despite his repeatedly stepping on the brakes.
His expert witness theorized that the mat was defective because it allowed interference with operation of the vacuum booster, which caused the power brakes to fail.
Donahue acknowledged that before the accident, he had been drinking from a bottle of vodka he kept in a brown bag under the driver's seat.
Ford denied the car was defective but agreed to a $150,000 pretrial settlement without admitting any liability.
The estate's suit then went to trial against Donahue, and the jury awarded $750,000 in damages. He and his insurers then tried to recoup some or all of that amount from Ford.
The appeals court upheld Ford's position, finding the settlement 'fair and reasonable' and saying 'it was reasonably predictable that damages would be high' and that a jury would find Donahue but not Ford liable for the child's death.
The court found no evidence of bad faith on Ford's part in negotiating the settlement.
Goscinak said Ford had acknowledged in a deposition that the company was aware of complaints about the floor mats in some of its models. She also said Donahue is appealing the jury verdict against him.