Ford plans appeal of $43 million verdict

Steve Gonzalez Apr. 20, 2005, 11:48am

Ford Motor Co. is planning to appeal a $43 million verdict reached by a Madison County jury last week, according to defense attorney James Feeney.

"The jury instructions in my opinion changed Illinois law," Feeney said. "If you give someone incorrect directions they are going to get lost."

The jury's goliath award to the family of a man burned to death after a speeding car rammed into his 1993 Lincoln Town Car at 65 miles per hour, included $28.1 million in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages.

Bradley Lakin of the Lakin Law Firm represented Dora Jablonski and her late husband, John Jablonski Sr., who died two days after the July 2003 fiery crash on Interstate 270 in Madison County.

Lakin, whose attorney's fees could be as high as $14.2 million, did not return several calls made to his Wood River office.
Ford spokesman Doug Lampe said that Madison County Circuit Court changed Illinois law-after the fact by ruling that auto manufacturer should have warned Jablonski about the possibility of an event that never happened in the Town Car more than 10 years after Ford first sold the car. Jablonski owned a used vehicle.

"The court's creation of new law creates an impossible standard to implement, and again demonstrates the need for tort reform in Madison County, Illinois," Lampe said.

"Punitive damages should never have been an issue in this case," Feeney added.

"I want to make it clear that I believe in the jury system," he said. "My client, Ford Motor Co., believes in the jury system. This particular jury worked hard to get it right."

"However, the jury was not allowed to allocate responsibility.

Feeney believes that the responsible party is Natalie Ingram, who struck the Jablonski's stationary vehicle, causing it to burst into flames. She was dismissed as a defendant in the case last month by Circuit Judge Andy Matoesian.

"No one denies this was a tragedy," Feeney said. "It's a regrettable tragedy."

Feeney is an attorney with Dykema Gossett in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. His co-counsel was Dan Ball of Bryan Cave in St. Louis.

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