Jury rejects air bag lawsuit against Ford

Carmaker is cleared of fault in fatality
August 23, 2002


LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Jurors on Thursday dismissed a $30-million lawsuit against Ford Motor Co. over the death of a Lexington woman killed in a low-speed traffic crash in 1999.

It took the jury about three hours to return with the ruling Thursday after hearing nearly two weeks of testimony in Jefferson Circuit Court.

Tim Struttman filed the lawsuit against Ford and Morton International -- now Autoliv Inc. -- in 1999, alleging his wife died after the air bag in her 1997 Mercury Sable inflated, causing a neck injury. Morton was the manufacturer of the air bag.

Struttman said by phone Thursday that he was disappointed with the ruling.

"The jury calls the shots," he said. "But I had to take a chance, I had to do something."

His attorney, Ron Hillerich, said he doesn't expect to file an appeal. "The family wants to put closure to this," Hillerich said.

Ford officials said they were happy with the jury's decision.

"We agree with the court's decision," said Kathleen Vokes, a Ford spokeswoman. "We're committed to the safety of all our customers."

The lawsuit said Struttman's wife, Lynn, a 4-foot-9, 105-pound woman, would have survived the crash if adjustable pedals -- a feature that allows drivers to sit farther from the steering column -- had been available in the 1997 Sable. The suit, which claimed Ford was negligent because it knew of the safety benefit of adjustable pedals long before it began offering the feature, sought about $30 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

Ford introduced adjustable pedals in 1999 on its Explorer and Lincoln Navigator sport-utility vehicles. But the company began testing the option in the early 1990s, according to Hillerich. The option is now one of Ford's best-selling extra features.

Ford rejected Struttman's claims. It acknowledged the safety benefit of the adjustable pedals but said it never tried to market the devices that way.

Experts on air bag safety said during testimony that drivers should be at least 10 inches from the center of the steering wheel to avoid serious or fatal injuries if an air bag deploys.

Ford attorney Colvin (Woody) Norwood argued during the trial that Struttman had to have been sitting closer than 10 inches from the steering wheel to have been killed at the moment of impact.

Carol Browning, attorney for Morton, said the company could not be held responsible for Struttman's death. The air bag did exactly what it was supposed to do, she said.

The crash that killed Lynn Struttman in 1999 was at a low speed; the mother of three had made a left turn into oncoming traffic.