Ford Motor Co. Avoids Mistrial and Settles $31 Million Seat Belt Design Suit


A North Carolina products liability suit was settled by the Ford Motor Co. on March 30, 2015 while a seemingly deadlocked jury was determining whether Ford’s seatbelt design was defective or not.  The terms and monetary value of the settlement were confidential, but the Plaintiff’s personal injury attorney had asked for more than $31 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

In 2010, Che-Val Batts, then 11 years-old, was riding in a 1999 Ford Escort when it was rear-ended by another vehicle.  Batts suffered a severe spinal-cord injury from the auto accident that has left the now 16 year-old paralyzed from the waist down.  Others were riding in the Ford Escort, however, they only suffered minor injuries because they were sitting in seats that offered them a three-point seatbelt system.

Batts was riding in the center rear seat wearing Ford’s two-point lap belt at the time of the auto accident.  His personal injury attorney argued that Ford’s two-point lap belt system caused Batts’ paralyzing injuries because it forced him to “jackknife” over the belt injuring his spinal-cord.  Batts’ personal injury attorney further explained that Ford has known since the 1960’s that a two-point lap belt system was more dangerous than other alternatives.  A three-point seatbelt system, argued Batts’ personal injury attorney, would have restrained Batts’ upper-body in the 2010 auto accident preventing his paralysis.

The $31 million asked by Batts’ personal injury attorney was calculated by considering the past and future medical expenses Batts would have in order to lead a productive life in addition to the pain and suffering Batts has endured.  His personal injury attorney argued that Batts had more than $11 million in past and future medical expenses, and that $31 million was a fair and reasonable award for a once playful child who now lives without the use of his legs.

The settlement announcement came the Monday after the jury stayed almost to midnight deliberating this issue.  It seemed that the jury reached a late Friday evening verdict which stated that Ford’s two-point lap belt system was not defective and that the other driver who caused the auto accident was completely responsible for Batts injuries.  It quickly became clear that the jurors had not reached a unanimous decision required by North Carolina law, and they were ordered to begin deliberations again on Monday.  The confidential settlement was announced mid-day Monday shortly after the jurors had claimed to be deadlocked at 8-4.

The settlement in the Batts case, Amos Tyndall, GAL for Che-Val Batts v. Ford Motor Co. and Alejandro Ortiz Rios, was reasonable in compensating for Batts injuries from the auto accident; however, the fact remains that Ford still has vehicles on the road with two-point lap belt systems.  From a consumer safety perspective, this is extremely alarming.  Romanow Law Group handles all types of products liability claims. If you believe you have been injured by a defective product, please call us today at (412) 642-9148 to schedule a free consultation.