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Jackson v. Ford – Widow Sues Car Maker for Defective Electronic Power Steering

Electronic power assisted steering, sometimes referred to as EPAS, have become an integral part of many newer vehicles. These systems have replaced a lot of the mechanical parts of previous steering assist systems that included pulleys, pumps and fluids. In its place is a tiny computer and a great deal of code. These systems are lighter than the hydraulic ones they replace and they have variable power to help the driver better at lower speeds. They can also be helpful when a vehicle drifts or pulls to one side. 

However, these systems are complex, and problems with them can be difficult to diagnose and repair. Ford in particular has come under fire for their EPAS systems. Some consumers have even alleged vehicle defects with the power steering system. Specifically, some have asserted that a defect renders the system prone to sudden and premature failure during ordinary and foreseeable driving situations. This means the driver must suddenly increase their steering effort, which can result in a loss of control. Also problematic is that when the EPAS fails, there is no warning to alert the driver – no chime, no ding, no dash lights, nothing.

This is what was alleged in the recent case of Jackson v. Ford Motor Co., recently weighed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Plaintiff, who was a passenger in the vehicle her husband was driving, said the couple was traveling on U.S. Highway 70 in Tennessee when “suddenly and without warning,” the vehicle darted left across the center line and into oncoming traffic. The vehicle was then struck head-on by another car. As a result of the car accident, plaintiff’s husband died. Plaintiff herself suffered life-threatening injuries, which she ultimately survived by left her permanently disabled. 

She alleges that the EPAS system, which replaces the traditional hydraulic assist power steering pump in vehicles that offer power steering, the system was defective.

She asserted there were both design defects and manufacturing defects with the vehicle, and that these rendered the system prone to sudden and permanent failure, even in situations of driving that were foreseeable. Drivers like her husband were at a heightened risk of losing control of their vehicles and being involved in a crash, which is what happened to plaintiff and her husband.

The trial court granted a defense motion to dismiss, finding plaintiff hadn’t adequately plead a proximate cause. Specifically, the court found that while plaintiff discussed at length the power steering system in plaintiff’s vehicle and many other vehicles made by the manufacturer, she did not explain how those reported defects caused their vehicle to suddenly veer into the lane of oncoming traffic. The lower court agreed, finding that while she had explained in-depth that numerous deficiencies existed, she didn’t cite the exact flaw that reportedly caused this crash.

The appellate court reversed and remanded. The court reasoned that plaintiff plausibly alleged that the defect was a substantial factor in her car accident and also identified a number of other crashes involving Ford vehicles that occurred similarly. Ford made a reportedly “hypertechnical argument,” but one that ultimately is predicated on an inaccurate understanding of what it means to plead notice. The product liability lawsuit will now go to trial.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Jackson v. Ford Motor Co., Nov. 29, 2016, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Suarez v. W.M. Barr & Co. – Product Liability Lawsuit to Proceed, Dec. 10, 2016, Orlando Defective Vehicle Lawyer Blog

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