X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
The New Jersey jury deliberated for approximately 90 minutes before returning a verdict on Jan. 18 of $15 million in damages for the plaintiff, police officer Hansylin Hernandez. The jury was convinced that Ford had manufactured a defective pitman arm in the 1995 Crown Victoria’s steering component, which caused Hernandez to veer off the road to the inside of a gradual curve in the road, ultimately crashing his vehicle into a tree and suffering multiple devastating injuries. Hernandez v. Ford Motor Co., MID-L-10461 (Middlesex County, N.J., Super. Ct.). Ironically, the plaintiff’s best evidence of the effects of the defective steering part in a vehicle and its driver was the defendant’s own reconstruction video. Through the use of computer technology, we were able to digitize every exhibit that could foreseeably be used in the case, including the video. Ford’s reconstruction video consisted of comparison test drives around Ford’s test course between a ’95 Crown Vic containing a new pitman arm (Test 1), and then a similar run around the course with the same vehicle, but containing a simulated defective pitman arm (Test 2). Ford’s expert driver performed the test drives and rendered an opinion early in his reports that he experienced no discernible differences in the vehicle’s handling or maneuverability. Test 1 and Test 2 were supplied on separate videotapes. When viewed separately, the tapes, perhaps due to the mechanical delay in changing tapes, appeared to suggest similar vehicle performance in both tests. The digitization of both videos, however, created the ability to run the two test videos immediately after one another with virtually no time delay between the viewings. This clearly showed jurors that the differences in vehicle handling between the two test runs were much more pronounced. Because the defendant’s expert took the rigid position that there was absolutely no difference between the maneuverability of the vehicle containing the new part and the vehicle containing the defect, his credibility was shaken when the jury saw the obvious differences in handling in Ford’s own video footage. Note that the actual part in Hernandez’s vehicle was unavailable because the car had been destroyed approximately 30 days after the accident. Therefore, the plaintiff’s engineer relied upon statistical data obtained from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration regarding the recall data supplied by Ford. The recall data contained information correlating the severity of the defect to the type and amount of use to which a vehicle containing the defect was subjected. Based on facts supplied to the plaintiff’s engineer suggesting heavy around-the-clock police use, in an urban area requiring much turning (and thus use of the steering components), the plaintiff’s expert determined the probable level of wear on the defect. He further concluded that any amount of wear on the defective part would have some effect on the vehicle’s maneuverability. Ford argued rigidly that even extensive wear in the defective part has absolutely no effect on the steering, asserting that only in cases where the defective part was worn to the point of total separation from the rest of the steering components would it impact the steering. Finally, the fact that Hernandez’s vehicle veered off the road to the inside of the curve, as opposed to the outside of the curve, weighed heavily in favor of the conclusion that the accident was caused by a steering defect, as opined by the plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert. Ford’s reconstruction expert attributed the unusual trajectory of the vehicle to excessive speed, driver error and driver oversteering. On cross-examination, however, Ford’s expert admitted that while the driver’s experience, familiarity with the vehicle and the road were important factors, he had no knowledge of these variables with respect to Hernandez. The jury found the plaintiff’s expert’s opinions more logically palatable than Ford’s expert’s rigid stance. Ford’s video provided additional, solid evidence of the defect’s effects, as “seeing is believing.” Harold Parra and Steven Cahn are partners in Cahn & Parra in Edison, N.J.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.