A state court jury in Napoleonville, Louisiana, returned a verdict for Ford Motor Company in a rollover/seat belt design case, finding no defects in a 2000 Ford Explorer and faulting instead the driver of the vehicle in which the decedent was a guest passenger.
The accident occurred when the Explorer was steered violently to avoid a piece of plywood in the road and went out of control, rolling 4-1/2 times before coming to rest on its passenger side. The driver and two rear seat occupants who were wearing seatbelts remained in the vehicle and sustained only minor injuries. The decedent was ejected from the right front passenger’s seat and killed when the rolling vehicle impacted his head.
The decedent’s family claimed he was wearing his seatbelt but it inertially released during the second roll when his right hand partially depressed the seat belt release button and the buckle housing was impacted by an unknown object. They theorized that the seat belt’s design was defective because a scalloped area in the front of the buckle housing made it susceptible to inadvertent contact during rollovers.
Ford countered that the accident was caused entirely by excessive speed and careless driving. Fact witnesses estimated the vehicle’s speed exceeded 80 mph prior to losing control. Forensic evidence obtained from the decedent’s seat belt established that it was not being worn at the time of the accident and this conclusion was supported by police office testimony and coroners’ examinations.
Ford was represented by Tom Bazemore of Huie, Fernambucq & Stewart in Birmingham, AL.