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Rejecting the products liability claims of a Louisville, Ky., man and his three children, a jury has decided that Ford Motor Co. and its air bag manufacturer were not responsible for a woman’s death in a car accident. The woman, Lynn Struttman, died of head and neck injuries after a July 1999 crash. Her husband, Timothy, sued Ford and Morton Intl. Inc. (now known as Autoliv ASP Inc.), claiming that their 1997 Mercury Sable was defectively designed and contributed to her death. Lynn Struttman was slightly less than 4 feet 10 inches tall and weighed about 105 pounds. She was using a back cushion that placed her closer to the steering wheel. The accident happened when she tried to turn left across oncoming traffic. Timothy Struttman’s attorney, Louisville solo practitioner Ronald P. Hillerich, argued at trial that the air bag inflated too forcefully and that the vehicle should have been designed with a pedal extender option that would have put her farther from the bag. “The jury didn’t agree,” Hillerich said. “I haven’t completely ruled out the possibility of an appeal, but it is unlikely. We live and die by what the jury says.” Struttman v. Ford Motor Co., No. 00-CI-0117 (Jefferson Cir. Ct., Div. 12). Morton Intl.’s lawyer, Carol Dan Browning of Louisville’s Stites & Harbison, said that the company could not have been found liable unless the jury first found that the vehicle was defectively designed and that Ford was negligent. At trial, Morton argued that it was only the maker of component parts and followed Ford’s specifications. “Ford took full responsibility for the design,” said Byron Miller of Louisville’s Thompson Miller & Simpson, who tried the case for Ford with lead counsel C.G. Norwood Jr. of New Orleans’ McGlinchey Stafford. In designing the air bag, Miller said, car manufacturers take into account people whose size, based primarily on height, are within the 5 percent to 95 percent range. “Lynn was in the first percentile,” he said. “If we had made the air bag softer for people like her, the 95th percentile male would go right through the bag and hit the steering column.” After the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) approved “depowered” air bags in 1998, Ford installed bags that inflated with less power in all its cars, Miller said. But, he said, the government says only four air bag-related deaths were reported among all 1997 domestic vehicles. Adjustable pedals are offered for comfort, not safety, said Miller. Ford has been offering them since 2000, but putting them closer to the driver does not solve the problem of a small driver’s arm length, he said. Miller said the NHTSA has set the safety zone as being 10 inches or more away from the air bag module.

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