MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Legal Newsline) - The Alabama Supreme Court has overturned an $8.5 million verdict against Ford Motor Company.

The Court, in its 21-page opinion released Feb. 11, reversed a trial court's judgment and remanded the case for a new trial.

Latoya Duckett sued Ford and others, alleging strict-liability design-defect and negligence claims under Georgia law. She sought damages for injuries she suffered in an accident involving a Mercury Mountaineer SUV.

The case went to the jury against Ford only, and the jury returned a verdict in Duckett's favor on her strict-liability claim and in Ford's favor on Duckett's negligence claim.

The jury awarded Duckett $8.5 million in damages. The trial court entered a judgment consistent with that verdict.

Following the verdict, Ford argued that it was entitled to a new trial on the ground that the trial court violated the statutory requirement of random jury selection by asking for volunteers to serve on the jury.

Justice Thomas A. Woodall, who authored the Court's opinion, agreed that the trial court's request for a show of hands by those members of the jury pool who could sit on a case that might last three or four weeks "was, in essence, a request for volunteers."

None of Alabama's statutory provisions, the Court said, permits juror self-selection based upon the juror's willingness to serve over an extended period of time.

"Indeed, only judges and other properly designated court officials have the authority to excuse jurors," it wrote.

The Court agreed with Ford that the use of volunteer jurors introduces "a subjective criterion" and "a significant element of nonrandomization" into the selection process.

The trial court's request for volunteers was a "substantial" violation of state code that affected the company's right to a randomly selected jury and, therefore, a new trial is necessary, the Court concluded.

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

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