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A federal appeals court has overturned a $3 million products liability jury verdict against Ford Motor Co. in which it was accused of having a design defect in one of its trucks, ruling the plaintiff’s expert testimony in the case was unreliable and should have been excluded.
In November 2012, Howard Nease was driving his recently purchased used 2001 Ford Ranger pickup truck in St. Albans, West Virginia, at 45-50 mile per hour when he discovered his vehicle would not slow down when he released the accelerator pedal, according to Wednesday’s ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, in Howard E. Nease; Nancy Nease v. Ford Motor Co.
When applying the brakes had no effect, Mr. Nease turned it off the road, drove over a curb and crashed into a brick car wash building and was seriously injured. Mr. Nease and his wife filed suit against Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford in November 2013.
In April 2015, a jury in U.S. District Court in Huntington, West Virginia, awarded the couple $3 million in damages. Ford appealed on grounds including the court should have rejected testimony by an expert who said the accident was caused by a design flaw in the truck.
The expert, Samuel Spero, an electrical engineer, had testified that the speed control cable in the truck is susceptible to getting stuck while the throttle to which it is linked is in the open position, which prevents the driver from slowing the vehicle down.
Ford said in its appeal that Mr. Spero’s testimony should have been held inadmissible under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc., the 1993 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says a trial court judge must make a preliminary assessment of whether an expert’s testimony is based on scientifically valid reasoning.
A three-judge appeals court panel agreed with Ford and unanimously overturned the award.
“The court did not use Daubert’s guideposts or any other factors to assess the reliability of Spero’s testimony, and the court did not make any reliability findings,” said the ruling.
“This testimony should have been excluded as it was ‘unsupported by any evidence such as test data or relevant literature in the field,’” said the ruling, in quoting an earlier decision.
The Neases cannot prove without Mr. Spero’s testimony that the truck’s speed control assembly was unsafe, said the ruling, which remanded the case to the District Court with instructions to enter judgment in Ford’s favor.
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