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Atlanta�Lawyers on both sides of Vittorio and Rosanna DiMaso’s products liability case against the Ford Motor Co. fought ferociously for leverage under a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision urging moderation in punitive damages. They fought needlessly, as it turned out. Jurors returned defense verdicts on all counts, after listening to a month-long trial before Cobb County, Ga., Superior Court Judge Toby B. Prodgers. The DiMasos had accused Ford of designing and manufacturing a flawed sport utility vehicle�the 1992 Explorer�and failing to inform the public that certain conditions would cause it to flip. DiMaso v. Ford, No. 99A6172 (Cobb Co., Ga., State Ct.). In addition to products liability claims, the DiMasos claimed breach of express and implied warranties, and failure to warn drivers of the dangers they faced in taking the Explorer out on the road. Ford, they claimed, knew about the SUV’s defects and did nothing about them. The DiMasos sought damages for their medical bills, the cost of past and future health care and mental and physical pain and suffering. They also sought punitive damages for what they called Ford’s “reckless and willful” behavior and “conscious indifference to the consequences of its actions.” The DiMasos’ case attracted some national attention because it was the first to take place against the backdrop of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 123 S. Ct. 1513, 1515-21 (2003). In that decision, the justices called for “vigorous judicial scrutiny of punitive damages awards.” Ford’s lawyer, Donald H. Dawson Jr. of Dawson & Clark in Detroit, said that the jurors seemed to subscribe to a common sense assessment of how a car should behave. DiMasos’ car had hit the median, he said, and rather than braking or pulling the car off the road, the driver jerked the wheel back and forth. Plaintiffs’ lawyer Eric J. Hertz of Hertz, Link & Smith of Tucker, Ga., said he still thinks he had a strong case. The circumstances just weren’t right for a win, he said. Hertz helped try the case with his partner, Mark D. Link, and with lead counsel James A. Lowe of Cleveland’s Lowe Eklund Wakefield & Mulvihill. “It was just one of those days when the facts didn’t line up as we needed them to,” Hertz said. He said he does not expect there will be an appeal.

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