Edmisten v. Ford Motor Company
On Friday afternoon, May 12, 2006, a twelve-person jury in Montgomery County, Alabama, rendered a verdict for Ford Motor Company in a case involving a 1995 Mercury Tracer. The jury was asked by the plaintiffs to award $15 million in damages, and the jury deliberated for two hours before rendering a verdict for Ford. The lawsuit was brought by the parents of Amanda Williams, who died of neck injuries in an accident that occurred on May 10, 2002, on Vaughn Road outside Montgomery. Ms. Williams, the driver of the Tracer, was a 16-year-old student at Macon East Montgomery Academy, where she was on the girls' basketball team.
In the accident, Ms. Williams was on her way to school when her Tracer swerved across the center line and collided head-on into a 2002 Chevrolet Trailblazer being driven by Kandis Ragland. Ms. Ragland was returning home from dropping off her children at Macon East. At the time of the collision, the Tracer was traveling approximately 45 miles per hour, and the Trailblazer was traveling approximately 25 miles per hour.
Ms. Williams’s parents claimed that Amanda’s seat belt, an automatic shoulder belt with a manual lap belt, had an improper geometry, which caused her to submarine under her belt and suffer a “hangman’s fracture” of her upper neck. The parents alleged that this fracture was caused by Amanda’s shoulder belt. Amanda was maintained on life support for approximately 24 hours so that her organs could be harvested for donation.
Ford produced evidence that the 1995 Tracer complied with all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and that its seat belt design, which promoted belt usage, has saved lives in the field. In fact, in testing conducted by the U.S. Government in 1995, the Tracer met government neck load requirements that were not imposed on manufacturers until 2003.
Ford was represented by Harlan Prater and Chandler Bailey of Lightfoot, Franklin & White, LLC, and by Don Jones from Montgomery. Ms. Williams’s parents were represented by J. P. Sawyer and Mike Andrews of the Beasley, Allen, Methvin, Crowe, Portis & Miles firm in Montgomery, Alabama.