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Olender v. Ford

CASE RESULTS DEPEND UPON A VARIETY OF FACTORS UNIQUE TO EACH CASE. CASE RESULTS DO NOT GUARANTEE OR PREDICT A SIMILAR RESULT IN ANY FUTURE CASE.

ARKANSAS FEDERAL COURT JURY EXONERATES MERCURY COUGAR

Unanimous Defense Verdict for Ford Motor Company

LITTLE ROCK, AR - After six and one-half hours of deliberation, although Plaintiffs’ attorneys had suggested an award of $5 –6 million in compensatory damages and unspecified punitive damages, a federal court jury returned a unanimous defense verdict in favor of Ford Motor Company on April 23, 2003. The jury found that Ford's 1999 Mercury Cougar was not negligently designed and was not unreasonably dangerous, and the vehicle was not the cause of the crash which led to the death of the Cougar’s driver.

The trial resulted from a single-vehicle crash that occurred on November 24, 2000, on Interstate 430, west of Little Rock, Arkansas. Susan Olender, the daughter of Plaintiff Ray Olender, her father, was traveling on a long stretch of highway at approximately 60-65mph, when she passed a vehicle traveling in the slow lane. As Olender completed her pass, she struck pooled water in her lane, causing her vehicle to hydroplane, spin off the road and strike a concrete abutment in the ditch. As a result of the impact, Olender sustained a neck fracture, became quadriplegic and passed away five months later.

Plaintiff claimed that the Mercury Cougar was negligently designed and was defective and unreasonably dangerous because of the design and routing of its battery cable. Specifically, Plaintiff’s experts hypothesized that the Cougar vehicle stalled, allegedly as a result of an electrical short caused by road water shorting out the battery cable. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s experts hypothesized, Susan Oldender lost her power steering and power brakes and found herself unable to control her vehicle. Ford Motor Company demonstrated at trial that, although that subject Mercury Cougar had been included within a recall campaign, the recall condition for which the campaign had been conducted was not present in the vehicle. Ford engineers further testified that the electrical system could not and did not short out as a result of water intrusion and that Plaintiff experienced her loss of control solely because she hydroplaned at the speed she chose to drive.

Raymond A. Olender and Ching-Ming Olender, as special Co-Administrators of the estate of Susan E. Olender v. Ford Motor Company, et al.
United States District Court, Eastern District of Arkansas
Judge Susan Webber Wright
Case No. 4:01CV0639 SWW

Ford was represented by Richard A. Bowman, Esq. of the law firm of Bowman and Brooke LLP, Minneapolis, and Edwin L. Lowther, Jr., Esq. and Patrick D. Wilson, Esq. of Wright, Lindsey & Jennings LLP of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Experts for the Defense: Dr. Jarrod W. Carter, Origin Engineering, Spokane, Washington; Mark Hoffman, Ford Engineer, Roger Barbosa, Ford Engineer, Karl E. Stopschinski, Carr Engineering, Houston, TX.

Plaintiffs were represented by Robert McHenry, Esq., of the law firm of McHenry & McHenry Law Firm, Little Rock, Arkansas and Ray Baxter of Baxter, Jensen, Young & Houston of Benton, Arkansas.

Experts for the Plaintiff: Robert J. Swint, ATA & Associates, Houston, TX; Rex B. McLellan, Rice University, Houston, TX; Michael K. Ennor, ATA & Associates, Houston, TX.