South Carolina High Court Overturns $18M Award

Charleston automobile accident attorneys want to remind fellow attorneys to reevaluate your expert witnesses before calling them to the stand. On Monday, March 15, 2010, South Carolina’s Highest court overturned the $18 million dollar award Ford Motor Company was to pay plaintiff Sonya Watson as a result of her 1999 single vehicle wreck.

Sonya Watson, 17, wrecked her 1995 Ford Explorer in December of 1999. Watson was paralyzed from the accident and one of her passengers, Patricia Carter, was killed. Watson claimed that the Explorer’s cruise control was at fault because it had caused the car to accelerate out of control. Watson filed suit against Ford Motor Company, in which her attorney argued that the Explorer “took off,” after Watson set the cruise control and she lost control of the vehicle in Laurens County on Interstate 385. In 2006 a Greenville County jury ruled in favor of Watson and awarded her $15 million dollars and $3 million dollars for Carter’s estate.

Chief Justice Jean Toal overturned the award Monday after reviewing the expert witness and the examples of other acceleration problems that were used in court. The expert witness in dispute an electrical engineer. Toal found that the engineer did not have any experience with cruise control, had never worked on a cruise control system, had never researched and published any literature on cruise control, and had never operated a cruise control on an automobile at all. Toal wrote that the had no experience in the automobile industry and the trial judge should never have allowed him to testify as an expert witness.

Other examples were cited of faulty cruise control systems were cited in the case, which were later overturned in the court of appeals. Toal explained that these examples were not fact because their ruling had been overturned and should not have been admissible by the trial judge. Ford Motor Company said they are satisfied with the court’s ruling and expressed their sympathy to the Watson and Carter families. South Carolina accident attorneys from both sides of the case could not be reached.

Source: The Post and Courier- “$18M award overturned.” March 16, 2010.

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