Jury rejects air bag lawsuit against Ford
Carmaker is cleared of fault in fatality
August 23, 2002
BY LORI BURLING
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
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
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,
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.