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Supreme Court of the United States Rules That Ford Must Face Trial Where Deadly Crashes Occurred

Posted on in Product Liability

Chicago product liability lawyerBy: Eddie Hettel

A recent decision by the Supreme Court of the United States will make it easier for victims of negligence to pursue their claims in the forum of their choosing.

In Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, the Supreme Court considered consolidated cases alleging damages resulting from a defective Ford vehicle. In each case, a state court ruled that it had jurisdiction over Ford Motor Company in a product liability suit resulting from a motor vehicle accident. Ford asked to have both suits dismissed, claiming lack of personal jurisdiction. Ford argued that state courts had jurisdiction only if conduct by the company in the state had led to the plaintiff's claims. Ford argued that such a link existed only if the specific vehicle that was involved in the accident had been designed, manufactured, or sold in the state.

In both cases, the car accident occurred in the state where the plaintiff brought the suit, the victim was a resident of the state, and Ford participated in substantial business in that state, including, advertising, selling, and performing services on the model of vehicle named in the suit. Ford stated that the states did not have jurisdiction because the specific car involved in the accident had not originally been sold, designed, or manufactured in the forum state. The Supreme Court rejected that argument, stating, “When a company like Ford serves a market for a product in a State and that product causes injury in the State to one of its residents, the State's courts may entertain the resulting suit.” The majority held that the Court’s specific jurisdiction standard includes suits that sufficiently “relate to” a defendant’s forum contacts, even if the contacts did not cause the harm.

Because Ford had served markets in Minnesota and Montana for the specific vehicles that the plaintiffs claimed had malfunctioned and caused injuries in those states, the court ruled that a strong “relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation” existed, and this is the “essential foundation” of specific jurisdiction. Because the plaintiffs resided in the forum states, used products that were allegedly defective in those states, and experienced injuries due to product malfunctions in the forum states, the connection between the plaintiffs’ claims and Ford's activities in the forum states was close enough to support specific jurisdiction.

This decision allows a court to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a defendant that has sufficient contacts with a forum state even if the contacts did not cause the injury at issue, giving plaintiffs more latitude in selecting the appropriate forum to litigate cases. 

Contact Our Chicago Product Liability Attorneys

Tomasik Kotin Kasserman LLC provides representation for victims of negligence who are injured in car accidents or other situations involving defective products. Contact our Cook County personal injury lawyers at 312-605-8800 to set up a free consultation.

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