Jablonski v. Ford Motor Co.Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs' 1993 Lincoln Town Car was hit while stopped. A pipe wrench in the trunk penetrated the gas tank. The car burst into flames. Husband was killed, wife was severely injured. A jury awarded wife compensatory damages totaling $23.1 million and punitive damages of $15 million and awarded compensatory damages to the estate in excess of $5 million. The appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. The duty analysis in a negligent-product-design case encompasses a risk-utility balancing test. Compliance with industry standards (NHTSA) is a relevant, but not dispositive. Plaintiffs presented insufficient evidence that Ford breached its duty of reasonable care on three negligent-design theories. Balancing foreseeable risks and utility factors, plaintiffs failed to present sufficient evidence that, at the time of manufacture, Ford's conduct was unreasonable or that it had acted unreasonably in failing to warn about the risk of trunk contents puncturing the tank. There was no evidence of a feasible shield that would have prevented this injury. Plaintiffs' fourth theory, premised on a postsale duty to warn, was not cognizable under Illinois law and its voluntary undertakings with respect to law enforcement vehicles did not create a duty to civilian customers.