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Indiana Appeals Court Rules Ford Must Face Wrongful Death Suit

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The Indiana Court of Appeals revived a wrongful death suit against Ford Motor Company because of the erroneous exclusion of expert testimony. The appeals court reversed the lower court's decision and ruled the testimony was admissible.

Karen Roush was driving a 2005 Mercury Monterey when she accelerated through a traffic light and collided with Kolby and Taylor O'Banion. Karen was killed; Kolby and Taylor were severely injured.

The Monterey accelerated uncontrollably through the intersection, and the insurance company blamed a faulty throttle. The trial court excluded expert testimony of mechanical engineers, David Zedonis and Dr. William Berg.

The estate of Karen Roush, Indiana Farm Insurance and the O'Banion family appealed the trial court decision to exclude the expert testimony.

Expert Opinion not Speculation

Zedonis prepared a report in August 2013 concluding that the Mercury Monterey’s throttle cable represented “ an unreasonably dangerous vehicle defect for Mrs. Roush” and that other vehicles had reported the same issue[sws_pullquote_right]See Also: $3.8 Million Verdict Affirmed Against UPS in Tractor-Trailer Crash Death [/sws_pullquote_right]

Several months after deposing Zeondis, Ford challenged the admissibility of his testimony on the grounds that it was pure speculation and lacked any engineering foundation.

The appeals court addressed whether Zedonis’s testimony was admissible under Indiana Evidence Rule 702. Generally, the trial court has discretion on what testimony is admissible. The opinion points out that expert’s opinion only need be supported by reliable scientific principles properly applied to the facts.

The appellate court stated it may reverse the trial court’s admissibility of expert testimony if it was clearly against any reasonable or otherwise actual inferences the court could draw from the testimony.

The court stated that, based on Zedonis’s analysis of the throttle cables and how it became worn and frayed, he did not make bald assertions based on no evidence.

Exclusion for Purported Discovery Violation

Zedonis conducted a second examination of the throttle cable after the discovery deadline of December 2013. The appeals court agreed that the lower court had the discretion to exclude the testimony but that any sanctions should be just.

The court concluded it was “too draconian a punishment” to exclude Zedonis’s testimony altogether because he was listed as an expert long before the trial began and its exclusion was fatal to the plaintiff’s case.

As an alternative, the trial court could have excluded the new theories only. The partial exclusion would have allowed the testimony to cover only the theories developed prior to the discovery deadline.

The additional expert opinion provided by Dr. Williams Berg was also admissible because it was premised on the admissibility of Zedonis’s testimony.

The case is O'Banion et al. v. Ford Motor Company, case number 27A04-1411-PL-00531 in the Indiana Court of Appeals.

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