WTO wins reversal and new trial on punitive damages phase of product liability case
White v. Ford
, 500 F.3d 963 (9th Cir. 2007)
WTO won a reversal and a new trial on the punitive damages phase of a product liability case originally tried by another firm in 1998. The first jury's compensatory damages award and finding of oppression or malice had been affirmed on an appeal in which WTO filed an amicus curiae brief attacking the punitive damages portion of the judgment. WTO was asked by the client to step in when the case was remanded for retrial solely on the amount of punitive damages. WTO persuaded the second jury to award only one-third of the amount awarded in the initial trial. WTO then represented the company on the second appeal. In 2007, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found numerous errors in the trial court's rulings and jury instructions, reversed, and sent the case back for yet another trial on the amount of punitive damages.
This case arose from the death of a three-year-old boy who was playing without supervision in and near his father's 1993 F-350 Ford pickup truck. While he was playing in the vehicle, it began to roll down the driveway of his parents' home, and he fell from the vehicle and was run over and killed by it. The boy's estate and parents sued Ford in federal district court in Nevada, principally alleging that the parking brake for the vehicle spontaneously disengaged, resulting in the fatal rollaway accident. In the first trial of the case, in 1998, another firm represented Ford. The first jury found Ford liable for negligence, failure to warn of the dangerous condition caused by the brake, and intentional misrepresentation of the safety of the vehicle, and awarded compensatory damages. The first jury also found that Ford had acted with oppression and malice and assessed punitive damages. Ford appealed, and the Ninth Circuit upheld the underlying liability findings, but reversed the punitive damages award and remanded the case for retrial solely on punitive damages.