Case against Ford Motor Company

This case took place in the Supreme Court of North Carolina where the court reversed a trial court’s verdict. The case traces back in December 1999, when Plaintiff Sonya Watson had an accident while driving a 1995 Ford Explorer while carrying three passengers.

The vehicle rolled severally after Watson lost its control after entering the interstate ejecting him and Carter one of the passengers. He was rendered quadriplegic while his friend lost his life (Brian, 2010). It was as a result of this encounter that Watson filed a products liability lawsuit against Ford, D&D Motors, Inc. and TRW Vehicle Safety Systems, Inc. He alleged that the vehicle’s seat belts and control system were defective and thus he was seeking punitive and actual damages. His argument was based on a theory that the vehicle’s control system was defective as a result being affected by the EMI (electromagnetic interference).

In support of his argument he presented Dr.Antony an electrical engineer who testified supporting that EMI can indeed interfere with the speed component of the vehicle’s control system causing it to accelerate suddenly. He in addition testified that Watson could have prevented EMI by using “twisted pair wiring” consequently avoiding the accident. Watson presented an expert on “cruise control diagnosis” Bill William’s testimony and an evidence from other four witnesses who had experienced such an issue of their Ford Explorers sudden acceleration.

On the other hand Ford Motor Company presented Karl Passeger the company’s own cruise control expert, who testified that the cruise control is not affected by the EMI signals. In addition, Ford presented an evidence of the possibility of the acceleration being caused by the floor mats which had happened in several occasions. The trial Court Jury gave compensatory damages of $3 million to Carter’s Estate and $15 million to Watson. However, Ford appealed and the case verdict was reversed when the South Carolina Court dealt with three major issues presented by Ford on appeal which included:

·       Could the trial Court have erred in qualifying Plaintiff’s expert Bill Williams as a cruise control system’s expert?

·      Could the trial Court have erred in allowing Dr.Anderson’s testimony regarding EMI and alternative feasible design?

Could the trial court have erred in allowing evidence of other incidents of explorer’s sudden acceleration?

The Supreme Court’s verdict was based on the South Carolina Rule of Evidence 702. This demands that the trial court must take into account three preliminary findings before presenting the testimony to the jury. First, the trial judge must find that the subject matter is beyond the knowledge of the jury and as a result summon an expert to explain the matter to the jury (Brian, 2010).

The jury must see to it that the expert is has indeed acquired the requisite knowledge and skill to qualify as an expert in that particular field. Finally, the trial court ought to evaluate and determine whether it is reliable. The South Carolina Court analyzed the issues presented by ford on appeal. It found that the Trial Court erred in qualifying Mr. Williams as a cruise control diagnosis expert.

This was based on the fact a trial’s court should have a broad scope inquiry of the qualifications which it failed to carry out. Mr. Williams just testified only to have worked as a trainer in the automotive industry, consultant, software developer and a writer. However, Mr. Williams was found to have no professional experience with cruise control systems before the litigation. Moreover, he had never taught or published any paper on cruise control systems, he did not have knowledge, skill, experience, education or training on the cruise control systems (Feynman, 2006).

 The Court concluded that the Trial Court failed to evaluate William’s qualification properly thus erred in qualifying him as a cruise control expert. The other issue that the court found the Trial Court to have erred on was the abuse of discretion when it admitted Dr. Anderson’s testimony. Normally the trial court should examine the substance of the testimony to determine its reliability.

However, the Supreme Court after applying reliability factors articulated in state v. Council,335 S.C.1.19.515 S.E. 2d 515,517 (1999) found Dr. Anderson to have failed to meet rule 702’s.In addition, the Court found his testimony on EMI and its effect on the cruise control system as unreliable as his theory was not tested. Moreover, the evidence presented by the four witnesses was as a result the Trial court’s prejudicial error. In conclusion, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the $ 18 jury verdict against Ford Motor Co.


Brian Comer, 2010, Case Brief: Watson v. Ford Motor Co. South Carolina. M. Feynman, 2006, Law 101: Everything You Need to Know About the American Legal System, New York: Oxford University Press.

Retrieved from at 8:00 pm on 17th July, 2010.