The U.S. Supreme Court agreed last month to hear Ford’s challenge to two decisions that allowed Plaintiffs to bring defect suits in states where the auto giant says it does not have a sufficient connection. The high court consolidated separate appeals of Minnesota Supreme Court and Montana Supreme Court decisions, both of which allowed courts in those states to have specific personal jurisdiction over Ford, as have many other jurisdictions where Ford tried this tactic.
The automaker is trying to obtain a ruling that is both illogical and legally indefensible. Such a standard would result in gross injustice to the American people and to the owners of businesses throughout the nation. Many other state courts have denied Ford’s efforts to avoid responsibility for products alleged to be defective where Ford claimed the courts did not have jurisdiction over Ford even though Ford sold tens of thousands of vehicles in the states. The issue before the high court is one dealing with state rights and individual rights.
In the Minnesota case, Adam Bandemer was a passenger in a 1994 Crown Victoria when the driver rear-ended a snow plow and the car ended up in a ditch. He alleged in his state court suit that the passenger side air bag didn’t deploy and that he suffered a severe brain injury in the 2015 accident.
Minnesota’s high court found there was a substantial connection between Ford, the state of Minnesota and Bandemer’s claims, because the automaker sold thousands of Fords and hundreds of thousands of other cars in the state, collected data on how its cars performed, and marketed and advertised to Minnesotans.
The Montana case involves a wrongful death suit brought by the estate of Markkaya Jean Gullett, who died in 2015 in a rollover crash in Minnesota of a Ford Explorer. Similarly, the Montana high court ruled that as long as Ford advertises, sells and services vehicles in Montana, it can be sued in the state on any claim that involves a Ford vehicle. Ms. Gullett was driving her 1996 Ford Explorer along a Montana highway in May 2015 when the tread on one of her tires separated, causing Gullett to lose control of the vehicle and roll into a ditch. She died at the scene. Her estate representative, Charles Lucero, sued Ford in Cascade County, Montana, in 2018.
The law has always allowed injured victims to sue in the state where they were injured if the manufacturer of the alleged defective product did business in the state. However, Ford is attempting to take away those rights and asking the Supreme Court to require an injured party to sue the manufacturer only in the manufactures home state. If Ford were to prevail, injured parties seeking redress by defective products would be required to travel to the places where the products were manufactured to make a claim. Such a rule would be unworkable in the real world where many products are imported and manufactured abroad in places like China. Countries where injured parties may not have the consumer protection laws like those here in the United States.
Gullett’s estate is represented by Deepak Gupta and Gregory A. Beck of Gupta Wessler PLLC. Bandemer is represented by Kyle W. Farrar, Wesley Todd Ball and Mark Bankston of Kaster Lynch Farrar & Ball LLP. The cases are Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court et al., (case number 19-368) and Ford Motor Co. v. Bandemer, (case number 19-369) in the U.S. Supreme Court.
This story appears in the February 2020 issue of The Jere Beasley Report. For more like this, visit the Report online and subscribe.