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DAVENPORT, IOWA: On April 29, 2011, the jury returned a unanimous verdict for Ford Motor Company in Federal District Court for the Southern District of Iowa (Davenport Division), finding no defect in the F-250 pickup truck, and rejecting plaintiffs' claim that the front center 2-point lap belt restraint system was defective and caused plaintiff's neck injury and permanent paralysis.
Kayla Nemmers, et al. v. Ford Motor Co., Court File No.: 3:09-CV-14 (S.D. Iowa) Verdict Date: April 29, 2011.
This case arose out of a single-vehicle crash that occurred on a rural gravel road in Jackson County, Iowa around midnight on February 3, 2007. Plaintiff, Kayla Nemmers, age 20, was the front center seat passenger in a 2002 F-250 pickup truck operated by Bradley Chrest, age 25. His brother, Raymond Chrest, was the right front outboard passenger. The driver lost control, drove off the left side of the road and down through a ditch, ran into a stump, rolled the truck over onto its side, and smashed, airborne, into a tree, ultimately ending upside down in the brush. Ford's evidence showed that the three occupants had been drinking that evening, and Kayla Nemmers' blood alcohol level was over one and a half times the legal limit, and the driver's blood alcohol level was over twice the legal limit at the time of the crash.
The airbags for the driver and right front passenger deployed, and the driver and right front passenger, who said they were wearing their 3-point lap-shoulder belts, were not seriously injured. Center front seated Kayla Nemmers sustained a "diving" type compression C-6 burst fracture neck injury, which rendered her paraplegic.
Kayla Nemmers' center front seat position was equipped with a 2-point, lap-only seatbelt that she said caused her to jackknife forward into the dash and break her neck. The plaintiffs' claim was Ford should have had a 3-point lap-shoulder belt, and/or an airbag, for the center front seat, as it did for the two front outboard seating positions.
Ford's evidence showed that, when the 2002 F-250 pickup was built, all other manufacturers of extended cab pickups had 2-point lap-only seatbelts for the front center seat position. Ford also argued that this seatbelt design had a history of excellent field safety performance. The defense of Ford Motor Company was: 1) the 2-point belt is not defective, 2) plaintiff Nemmers did not wear her seatbelt, and 3) if she had worn her seatbelt, she would not have been seriously injured. Ford's expert on injury mechanism testified that plaintiff's neck injury was sustained by diving, unbelted, into the roof during the rollover.
After six and a half hours of deliberation, the jury rendered a unanimous verdict for Ford, finding no defect in the F-250 pickup truck.
Liability expert witnesses for the plaintiffs included: Bruce E. Enz, Indianapolis, Indiana, accident reconstruction; Stephen R. Syson, Goleta, California, restraint system design and performance; and Mariusz Ziejewski, Fargo, North Dakota, injury mechanism.
Testifying on the technical issues for Ford Motor Co. were Geoffrey Germane, Provo, Utah, accident reconstruction; Ford engineer, William Ballard, Dearborn, Michigan, restraint system design, testing and performance; Eddie Cooper, Phoenix, Arizona, seatbelt design and performance; and Robert Piziali, San Carlos, California, injury mechanism.
Plaintiffs were represented by Richard L. Denney and Lydia Barrett, Denney & Barrett, P.C., Norman Oklahoma; and Pressley Henningsen, Riccolo & Semelroth, P.C., Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Lead trial counsel for Ford was David R. Kelly, Bowman and Brooke, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Also representing Ford at trial were Fred Fresard, Dykema Gossett, Detroit, Michigan and Robert V.P. Waterman, Jr., Lane & Waterman LLP, Davenport, Iowa.