Car makers not responsible for freak accidents

The Madison County Record Oct. 9, 2011, 6:38pm

As we had long advocated and anticipated, the Illinois Supreme Court has reversed the $43 million judgment against Ford Motor Co. in the Jablonski case.

On Sept. 22nd, the Court held that Ford was not obliged to warn luxury car owners of the extremely unlikely possibility that the contents of their trunks could, under extreme circumstances, be propelled forward and puncture their fuel tanks.

John and Dora Jablonski experienced that extreme unlikelihood in 2003 while paused in their 1993 Lincoln Town Car at a construction area on Interstate 270. They were rear-ended by a driver going 65 mph and their fuel tank exploded. John was killed, Dora severely burned.

Dora subsequently sued Ford, blaming the manufacturer for making a vehicle with a gas tank unable to withstand a 65-mph impact. The jury awarded Dora $43 million and the Appeals Court upheld the decision.

A year and a half ago, we predicted that this decision, if allowed to stand, would mean "open season on car manufacturers. Anyone injured in an automobile," we warned, "under any circumstances whatsoever – during a flood, during an earthquake, during a terrorist attack – will be tempted to sue the manufacturer for failing to produce a car capable of surviving the pertinent catastrophe."

Last December, after Ford asked the Illinois State Supreme Court to overturn the verdict, we agreed with the auto company's contention that an affirmation of the verdict would make manufacturers subject to open-ended liability. This, we editorialized, would be "a burden no manufacturer can shoulder, and a dagger pointed at the heart of our already reeling economy."

The precedent that would have been set by a verdict in favor of the plaintiff in this case had alarming implications for American manufacturers and for our economy as a whole. Plus, it was just plain wrong.

Car makers are not responsible for injuries that occur in their vehicles under such extreme circumstances. They just aren't. The Illinois Supreme Court decision makes that clear.

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