The Senior Judge of the Florida’s Fifth Judicial Circuit has set aside a jury verdict in favor of Ford Motor Company, blasting the automaker for defrauding the court and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration by claiming that it knew of no other cause of unintended acceleration than driver error and for concealing years of testing that showed that electromagnetic interference was a frequent root cause of UA in Ford vehicles.
In his withering decision, Senior Judge William T. Swigert of the Fifth Judicial Circuit in Sumter County, Florida ordered a new trial in which the jury would only consider compensatory and punitive damages in Stimpson v. Ford. The post-trial order is a victory for Attorney Thomas J. Murray, of Murray & Murray based in Sandusky, Ohio, who represented the Stimpson family.
The case concerned an October 28, 2003 crash which left Peggy Stimpson permanently paralyzed. Her husband alleged that he was unable to stop the couple’s 1991 Ford Aerostar, when it suddenly accelerated from their carport as he put the van into gear. The Aerostar hurtled more than 100 feet, and crashed into a utility pole.
In his 51-page decision, Judge Swigert excoriated Ford for systematically concealing a long history, stretching back to the 1970s, of studying the problem of electromagnetic interference and unintended acceleration, working to resolve it, but nonetheless finding many instances of it in the real world. Swigert enumerated each step Ford took in achieving a high level of corporate malfeasance – among them, lying to NHTSA, systematically destroying field technical reports that identified electromagnetic interference with the cruise control servo as a cause of unintended acceleration and misleading its own experts, who have repeatedly testified in other cases that driver error had to be the cause of such events.
“The proofs introduced at trial include various patents owned by Ford showing that electronic malfunctions in the cruise control system can cause sudden, unintended acceleration, in addition to reports from Ford’s engineers, including SIRs and CQIS reports, diagnosing sudden acceleration as a problem with the cruise control system. Ford’s Ishikawa engineering diagram likewise shows that EMI is a cause of sudden unintended acceleration.”
But how and why did Ford get away with it for so long?
The U.S. government, once crafted as a system that would serve the interests of the people, has devolved into a system of plutocracy where corporations control both the government and the people. Virtually every government regulatory department, for example, is now run by the corporations it is supposed to be regulating. Just look at the FDA, USDA, FTC, FCC, NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) and most other government regulatory bodies and you'll find a room full of politicians and bureaucrats who utterly disregard the People while prioritizing the financial needs of influential corporations.
Sometime in the fifties Ford concocted a fabulous money making scheme: Planned Obsolescence. They engineered cars to start breaking down sometime after the warranty expired. Parts that were hard to get to, and expensive to replace, failed first. When people got tired of spending money on repairs, they would opt for another new car, or so the theory went. Since all of the U.S. car companies did the same thing, if you got sick of a Ford, and bought a GM, it would not matter, because someone who was sick of their GM constantly breaking down would buy a Ford.
Then they tried to increase profits by applying pressure to vendors who supplied parts. They wanted cheaper, cheaper, cheaper. The only way parts manufacturers could cut costs was to cut quality. They bought cheaper materials, made people produce more, and cut inspection.
Finally, there was benign neglect of maintenance. Machines were patched up and made to run, even if they were not running right, or could not run to the quality specifications. In Department 251 at the Sharonville Transmission Plant there was a machine that would run only if the operator put a gigantic rubber band on an arm that wobbled as it made up and down strokes. In Department 285 there was a machine that would not run parts that met specs unless the operator inserted the back of a paper match book between two slides whose bearings were completely shot. In the Press Room sometimes round parts came out of the presses round, and other times they came out egg shaped. In either case they were used to make transmissions.
So what was the result of all this mismanagement, greed, and indifference to the quality of cars being produced? In the seventies and eighties we had the largest recalls in automotive history. We had deadly cars that killed people in fires. We had transmissions that jumped out of park, into reverse, and killed hundreds of people. Consumers Report magazine stated that, in the seventies, the United States of America produced the worst cars of any industrialized nation. Bad automotive quality became an international disgrace to America, and 33 states passed “Lemon Laws” to protect consumers from these auto makers.
How do Auto Makers and other big corporations make it harder for the average person to bring a claim against them?
What is tort reform?
Tort reform is a series of efforts to “reform” the civil tort laws, which protect victims who suffer serious harm as a result of the carelessness or intentional wrongdoings of another. State and federal legislators are currently taking huge strides to implement tort reform strategies that could take away your constitutional rights, i.e., your rights to redress and compensation if and when you are harmed by the negligence or recklessness of another.
Tort reform could prevent you from filing a lawsuit against a wrongdoer who caused you harm, reduce your right to receive full compensation for your losses and suffering, and/or reduce the liability of wrongdoers. Please see our section on the strategies of tort reform to learn more about the different steps lawmakers are taking to hinder your rights such as implementing caps on damages, limiting liability on manufacturers of defective products, and setting arbitrary statute of limitations laws.
Why tort reform is bad for Americans
The United States civil justice system is unique in that we have the constitutional right to file a lawsuit and hold wrongdoers accountable through the court of law. We put our claim in the hands of a judge or jury who assesses the evidence brought forth in a case to determine the verdict they deem fair.
Tort reform efforts undermine this justice system by taking away our rights, allowing wrongdoers to get away with their offenses.
By setting arbitrary time limits to file personal injury or medical malpractice claims, putting caps on non-economic and punitive damages, and limiting liability for manufacturers of defective products, among other strategies, tort reform is making it extremely difficult for injured persons to seek compensation when they have truly suffered serious losses at the hands of another. In addition, tort reform weakens the deterrent effect that civil suits have on wrongdoers.
In a nutshell, tort reform proponents seek to limit the liabilities of negligent and knowingly injurious parties. In fact, the strongest backers of tort reform are big corporations and big insurance companies — those with the most to lose by tort lawsuits.
In the “Ford (Fraud) Motor Company” case above, the victim, rendered a paraplegic, could very well have had no right to sue if the big corporations had gotten their way many years ago. They would have had Congress pass legislation to prohibit these “frivolous” cases (as they like to refer to them). Absent being able to accomplish that extreme, they seek legislation to limit the amount of money are they liable for, called “caps on damages”. That way, no matter how bad the victim’s injuries, and no matter how bad the company’s conduct, their exposure is “capped” as a stated dollar amount.
How would you feel if you were in the shoes of Mr. and Mrs Stimpson if, despite the horrendous behavior and cover up by Ford, you had NO right to bring a legal claim for your injuries, or were limited in the amount you could recover? Many states in the US have enacted damage caps. They think it deters frivolous lawsuits. In truth, it does nothing of the sort. In fact, all it does is protect the big corporations against having to pay fair monetary damages for the biggest and most horrendous injuries that they cause.
We wish the best to the Stimpsons. The only way to teach these huge corporations is to hit them where it hurts the most and where they place their #1 priorities---in their pocketbooks.
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