S.C. SC rules for Ford in $18M case

Jessica M. Karmasek Sep. 17, 2010, 11:59am


COLUMBIA, S.C. (Legal Newsline) - The South Carolina Supreme Court, in an opinion re-filed earlier this week, upheld a previous ruling that an $18 million jury verdict against car manufacturer Ford Motor Co. must be reversed.

In March, the state's high court ruled the jury verdict against the carmaker had to be reversed because the trial court erred by admitting evidence of similar accidents, qualifying the plaintiffs' witness as an expert in cruise control systems and allowing testimony regarding alternative feasible design.

Multiple plaintiffs who were injured in a car accident filed suit against Ford, alleging the Explorer's cruise control system and seatbelts were defective. A jury awarded the plaintiffs a total of $18 million in damages.

Ford then appealed, arguing the trial court made several errors with regard to the plaintiffs' evidence. The Court agreed, vacating the jury award.

After issuing an initial opinion, the respondents and Ford presented the Court with motions to clarify. Additionally, the respondents submitted a petition for rehearing.

The Court, in its opinion re-filed on Monday, granted the motions to clarify and denied the respondents' petition for rehearing, subsequently issuing a new opinion in the place of the original filed in March.

In its conclusion, Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal affirms the Court's previous ruling, "The trial court serves as the gatekeeper in the admission of all evidence presented at trial, and in making admissibility determinations, the trial court is required to make certain preliminary findings regarding admissibility requirements, such as qualification of experts, reliability of the substance of the testimony, and substantial similarity of alleged similar incidents, before a jury may hear the evidence.

"If these preliminary requirements are not met, as a matter of law, the trial court may not permit the jury to consider the evidence. In this case, we hold that those threshold admissibility requirements were not met, and therefore, the trial court erred in qualifying Williams as a cruise control expert, in admitting Dr. Anderson's testimony, and in admitting evidence of similar incidents.

"Finally, we find the evidence submitted at trial was insufficient to support a verdict for Respondents and the evidence shows that Ford is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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