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Vehicle Rollover Case Requires Risk Benefit Test, Not Consumer Expectation Test*

May 31, 2017 | Posted by Elizabeth Chiba Rein | Topic: Product Liability

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal in Edwards v. Ford Motor Co., No. 15-55577, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 4905, at *2 (9th Cir., Mar. 20, 2017), affirmed the judgment in favor of Ford Motor Company (“Ford”) on successor-in-interest to decedent Fiailoa Edwards’ (“Edwards”) claim that Edwards’ 2002 Ford Explorer Sport Trac (“Vehicle”) was defective.  The issue on appeal was whether the district court erred in excluding the consumer expectations test.

Edwards was driving the Vehicle when traffic ahead of him abruptly began to slow.  Id. at *2.  Instead of colliding into the cars ahead, Edwards veered onto the shoulder of the freeway while going about thirty-five miles per hour.  Id.  Subsequently, the Vehicle rolled over multiples times causing its roof to crush eight inches vertically and six inches laterally.  Id.  Edwards died from blunt force injuries to his head, neck, and chest.  Id.

The Ninth Circuit held that the district court did not err in excluding the consumer expectations test for design defect liability.  Id.  The Ninth Circuit did not base its decision on the complexity of the product, but rather based its decision on the lack of consumers’ expectations regarding the extent to which the Vehicle’s roof would respond in a multiple rollover accident.  Id. at *4.  In other words, it takes a certain kind of expertise to give an opinion on the physics of how a car is supposed to respond in an accident of this nature.  Thus, the consumer expectations test was inapplicable in this case, due to the level of scientific complexity associated with the defect theory.  

(*Co-written by WTK’s diversity fellow, Julian Camper, who completed his first year at California Western School of Law in 2017.)