Ford Motor Co. does not need to undergo a new trial in a crashworthiness suit involving a 1988 Escort LX, the Florida Court of Appeal has ruled.
The court reinstated a defense verdict, rejecting a seriously injured passenger's claim of jury misconduct.
The suit was filed by Clifford Harris, who was severely burned and lost three limbs after an Escort driven by a friend struck a tree and caught fire. A witness noticed a fire in the engine area, which spread and led to an explosion that engulfed the car in flames. The driver had been intoxicated, speeding and driving without the adult supervision his license required, the court said, and Ford said the teen-age driver had borrowed the car without permission.
Harris' product liability suit in Pinellas County Circuit Court contended that the relay switch failed, preventing it from disrupting the flow of power to the fuel pump and allowing gasoline to be pumped after impact.
Ford countered with expert testimony that the relay switch and fuel pump had worked properly. The defense theory was that the crash caused an oil pan to burst, creating a slow-spreading, oil-based fire.
'The inertia switch functioned properly and it wasn't a gasoline-fed fire,' Ford spokesman Jim Cain said. He claimed that there was only a gallon or two of gas in the tank and that the car came to rest on the side with the fuel pump on the up side, meaning it could not draw gas.
After Ford won the verdict, Harris hired an investigator who used public records to conduct a background check of the jurors. Using the results of the investigation, Harris contended that two jurors had failed to disclose relevant information during the jury selection process.
Judge Howard Rives agreed, set aside the defense verdict and ordered a new trial.
The Court of Appeal disagreed, however, and the three-judge panel reinstated the verdict in favor of Ford, ruling that neither juror had committed misconduct.
There was no misconduct when one juror failed to disclose that her husband once had been involved in a lawsuit or that her employer owned a fleet of 25 Ford vehicles, it said. The couple had not been married when the earlier suit took place, and the employer's use of Ford vehicles was not relevant to issues in the Harris case.
Another juror did not reveal that she had been the plaintiff in a $1,000 real estate lawsuit in 1985, but that case was not relevant either, the court said.
Miami lawyer Joel Eaton, who represents Harris, said: 'They got their facts wrong. We do intend to ask the court for a rehearing.'