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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:In 1993, Willie Edward Searcy, a 14-year-old, was critically injured in a collision between the 1988 Ford Ranger driven by his stepfather and another vehicle. Searcy was rendered ventilator-dependent and a quadriplegic, and he died in 2001. Searcy’s mother, Susan Miles, and his step-father, Ken Miles, sued Ford in Rusk County, asserting product liability causes of action. That case resulted in a verdict for Miles, but it was reversed on appeal for improper venue. The case was moved to Dallas County, and that court granted partial summary judgment on all claims except design defect. On appeal, this court reversed the judgment on all claims except malice and remanded for further proceedings. On remand, the case was transferred to probate court. Only Ford was listed as a defendant, and the petition listed strict liability for design, manufacture and marketing of the truck, and negligent design as causes of action. Miles alleged that the “tension eliminator” in the seat belt Searcy was wearing allowed too much slack, which caused Searcy’s injuries. The case went to the jury with four questions. Question 1 asked if there was a design defect in the truck at the time it left Ford’s possession. Question 2 asked if there was a manufacturing defect at that same point. Question 3 asked about marketing defects, specifically as they related to warnings. All three of these questions asked if the defects were the “producing cause” of Searcy’s injury or death. Question 4 had two parts. Part A asked whether Ford’s negligence, if any, proximately caused the injury. Part B asked whether the negligence, if any, proximately caused Searcy’s death. The jury answered “no” to the first three questions, and to Question 4B. The jury answered “yes” to Question 4A, and awarded nearly $6 million to Miles in compensatory and punitive damages. Ford argues on appeal that plaintiffs in a crashworthiness case such as this case must prove that the vehicle was defective, regardless of whether their claim is based on strict liability or negligence. Specifically, Ford asserts that there is an irreconcilable conflict in the jury’s verdict because the jury answered “no” to the three strict liability questions, thus determining that Miles failed to prove that a defect in the truck caused their injuries, but answered “yes” to the negligence question, thus finding the opposite of the strict liability findings. HOLDING:Reversed and remanded. The court notes that, under a products liability theory in a crashworthiness case, the crux of the case is a defect in the vehicle, regardless of whether the underlying standard is negligence or strict liability. The difference is that under negligence theory, foreseeability must be proven. But because the strict liability questions and the negligence questions all related to various defects, and all called for the same factual finding, the negligence question was duplicative of the rest. The court points out that, although a negligence claim requires a different showing from a strict liability claim, it is not logical for a manufacturer to be held liable for failing to exercise ordinary care when producing a product that is not defective because: 1. if a product is not unreasonably dangerous because of the way it was manufactured, it was not negligent to manufacture it that way; and 2. even if the manufacturer were somehow negligent in the design or production of the product, that negligence cannot have caused the plaintiff’s injury, because the negligence did not render the product unreasonably dangerous. The court rejects Miles’ contention that the evidence of negligence is separate and distinct from strict liability theory. It points out that Ford knew about the excessive slack in the tension eliminators and was actually aware of the confusion over the proper use of the eliminators; yet, Ford did nothing about it and in fact realized a substantial profit from the tension eliminators. These facts point equally to support a claim respecting design, manufacture and marketing defect, as well as negligence, the court says. Additionally, the strict liability claims asked if the defects were the “producing cause” of the injuries. The negligence question asked if they were the “proximate cause” of the injuries. Proximate causation subsumes within it the concept of producing cause. If a defect is not a producing cause of an injury, it cannot constitute, as a matter of law, a proximate cause. If the jury failed to find the truck defective and the cause of the injury when evaluating the less demanding test of producing causation, then it is not logical to argue that the same defect was the cause of the injuries based on a theory of negligence, which uses a more demanding and restrictive theory of causation. The court concludes that the negative answer to the strict liability questions and the affirmative answer to the negligence question are in fatal conflict. However, the court declines Ford’s invitation to render judgment. Instead, the court remands for further proceedings. OPINION:Lang, J.; Whittington, Lang and Lang-Miers, JJ.

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