Bordelon v. Ford Motor Company
On Friday, January 22, 2016, a jury in Orleans Parish, Louisiana returned a verdict for Ford Motor Company following a two-week trial, rejecting plaintiff’s claim that his 2005 Ford Focus contained a defective seat. Instead, the jury placed all fault for the accident on the adverse driver who rear-ended the plaintiff’s vehicle.
The lawsuit arose from a two-vehicle accident that occurred on February 5, 2011, at approximately 2:00 a.m. in New Orleans. Michael Bordelon, a co-owner of a local restaurant, closed the restaurant for the evening and traveled in his Focus toward his home. While Bordelon was stopped at a controlled intersection, Willie O’Connor, driving a Toyota Tundra rear-ended him. As a result of the high-speed crash, Bordelon sustained a severe traumatic brain injury, leaving him permanently disabled.
Bordelon subsequently filed suit against Willie O’Conner and Ford Motor Company. As against O’Conner, Bordelon alleged that O’Conner negligently rear-ended him. O’Conner testified at trial that he had no recollection of the crash because just before the collision he had suffered a “flashback” to his days in Vietnam. He also testified that he was not intoxicated despite his having pleaded guilty to DWI (Fourth Offense) and First Degree Vehicular Negligent Injuring.
As against Ford, Bordelon claimed the driver’s seat in the 2005 Ford Focus was unreasonably dangerous because of a defect in design. Bordelon’s seat expert, Michael Markushewski, M.E.T., of ARCCA, argued the seat back strength was inadequate. Bordelon’s biomechanical expert, Brian Benda, Ph.D., also of ARCCA, testified that had Ford utilized a stronger seat Bordelon would have walked away from the crash without any significant injury. In reaching that conclusion, Benda relied upon an accident reconstruction performed by Sean Harrington, B.S. in Engineering Science and Mechanics and also from ARCCA, who testified that the Tundra was traveling only 36-44 mph at the time of the collision.
Ford disputed plaintiff’s accident reconstruction by calling Tom Perl, Ph.D., P.E., of Collision Safety Engineering, L.C., who testified that the Tundra traveled 50-60 mph at the moment of impact. That speed resulted in the Focus experiencing a Delta-V of 40 mph. Ford also called a statistician, Jeya Padmanaban, M.S., of JP Research, Inc., who explained that the subject crash was more severe than 97.7% of all rear-end accidents. Additionally, she performed an analysis of hundreds of thousands of crashes and testified that seatback strength is not a statistical predictor of injury outcome.
Ford also presented testimony from Roger Burnett, M.S., a Ford engineer. Mr. Burnett explained the design process for the seat and the extensive testing Ford undertook during its development. Finally, Ford called a biomechanical expert and seat design expert, David Viano, Dr. med., Ph.D., of ProBiomechanics LLC, who testified that the subject seat design performs very well in rear-end crashes. In rebutting plaintiff’s claim that Ford should have utilized a more rigid seat, Dr. Viano introduced testing that demonstrated that the use of the more rigid alternative seat design proposed by plaintiff actually increased the risk of injury to occupants in various crash scenarios experienced much more often than the subject crash scenario and offered no injury reduction benefit even in the serious accident scenario experienced by Bordelon.
Turning to damages, plaintiff presented the testimony of a psychiatrist, Richard Richoux, MD, and a neuropsychologist, Kevin Bianchini, Ph.D., as the basis for a life care plan prepared by Larry Stokes, Ph.D. That plan included extensive attendant care for Bordelon, and plaintiff’s economist, Kenneth Boudreaux, Ph.D., calculated the value of the plan at $3.3 to $4M. In response, Ford called a psychiatrist, John Thompson, M.D., who disputed the extent of the life care plan presented by plaintiff. Ford’s expert in life care plans, Elizabeth Bauer, M.Ed., CLCP, presented a plan in line with Dr. Thompson’s recommendations, and John Theriot, CPA, calculated the present value of Ford’s life care plan at $200,000 – $310,000.
During closing arguments, plaintiff’s counsel discounted Willie O’Conner’s role in causing Bordelon’s injuries and argued that the jury should cast Ford with the majority of the fault apportionment. O’Conner’s counsel argued similarly suggesting that O’Conner’s fault played no role in the cause of Bordelon’s disabling injuries. On the issue of damages, plaintiff’s counsel suggested a general damages award from $5M to $20M. He also asked the jury to award past medicals of approximately $450,000 and future medicals of up to $4M. After deliberating for approximately four hours, the jury returned an 11-to-1 verdict and found that the Ford Focus was not defective, thereby releasing Ford from any liability. As for Willie O’Conner, the jury found him 100% at fault. The jury then assessed Bordelon’s damages against O’Conner, and it awarded $441,000.00 in past medical expenses, $300,000.00 in future medical expenses, and $500,000.00 in general damages, for a total award of $1.24M.
Ford’s trial team consisted of Keith W. McDaniel and Quincy T. Crochet of McCranie, Sistrunk, Anzelmo, Hardy, McDaniel & Welch, LLC, Mark Boyle of Donohue, Brown, Mathewson & Smyth LLC, and Michael W. Eady of Thompson Coe.