Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Branham v. Ford Motor Co. case brief

Branham v. Ford Motor Co. case brief summary
701 S.E.2d 5 (2010)

Defendant motor vehicle manufacturer appealed a judgment of the Hampton County Circuit Court (South Carolina) in a product liability action upon a jury verdict for plaintiff passenger of $ 16 million in actual damages and $15 million in punitive damages against the manufacturer and the driver of a vehicle in a rollover accident while the passenger was in the back seat of the vehicle.

The passenger alleged that a design defect added to the rollover propensity of the vehicle.


  • The court held that the risk-utility test with its requirement of showing a feasible alternative design based on evidence in existence at or before the time of manufacture was the exclusive test to use in a products liability design case. 
  • The passenger had to point to a design flaw in the vehicle and show how an alternative design would have prevented the product from being unreasonably dangerous. 
  • This alternative design had to account for its associated costs, safety and functionality. 
  • However, while the passenger produced evidence of a feasible alternative design, retrial was necessary. 
  • Whether a product was defective had to be measured against information known at the time the product was placed into the stream of commerce. 
  • Introduction of post-manufacture evidence and evidence of other rollover accidents with insufficient similarity prejudiced the manufacturer. 
  • Also, counsel for the passenger in his closing argument on punitive damages impermissibly asked the jury to punish the manufacturer not only for harm to the passenger but also for harm to others involved in rollover accidents.
The court reversed the judgment of the trial court in part and remanded for a new trial on liability using the risk-utility test and on damages.

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