An appeals court in Louisiana has ordered Ford Motor Co. to refund the $14,000 purchase price for a defective 1989 Mercury Topaz and to pay $3,375 for injuries the driver suffered because of engine defects.
The unanimous ruling reversed a jury determination that the vehicle was defective but that no damages were due. However, the purchaser's daughter has asked the court to reconsider the decision, asserting that the personal injury award is too low and that Ford is liable for hastening her mother's death, her lawyer said.
Mandy McNeely bought the car new in 1989 from Bayshore Motors Ford-Lincoln-Mercury in Houston. When the car had 3,800 miles on the odometer, it threw a piston rod that cracked the engine block and caused her to swerve off the highway. The car was towed to a Denham Springs, La., dealership for repairs, including replacement of the short block.
The next month, McNeely brought the car to a Slidell, La., dealership, complaining of alignment problems and a popping noise in the front end. The car had about 4,000 miles on the odometer, and the repairs were done under warranty.
Less than six months later, with 8,000 miles on the Topaz, steam started to come from under the hood when McNeely started the car. Fearing a fire, she tried to get out and, in panic, became entangled in the automatic seat belt, suffering neck and back injuries, the suit contended.
The short block was replaced again under warranty. McNeely stopped using the car with 19,600 miles, allegedly because she was too frightened to drive it.
She sued Ford Motor Co. and the dealerships in St. Tammany Parish District Court, asserting the Topaz was defective. All claims against the dealerships were dismissed.
McNeely died while the case was pending.
The trial judge dismissed a defective manufacturing claim. The jury then found that the car was defective and 'useless for its intended purpose' but concluded that the defects did not exist when it left Ford's control. As a result, it said McNeely suffered no damages.
In its decision, the Louisiana Court of Appeal found that the car was 'unreasonably dangerous in construction or composition' under state law.
The court also said the jury was mistaken in concluding that the defects did not exist when the car left Ford's control.
However, it found no basis for the daughter's wrongful death claim, saying the seat belt entanglement incident did not cause McNeely's death. The daughter's lawyer, Arthur O'Keefe of New Orleans, said the court should have reinstated the wrongful death claim and awarded higher damages for personal injuries.
Ford spokeswoman Susan Krusel called the wrongful death claim 'ridiculous' and said Ford opposes the daughter's further appeal.