Appeal by Ford Motor Co. in wrongful death case dismissed

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed an appeal filed by Ford Motor Company over a judgment of more than $7 million against the company in a lawsuit stemming from an automobile accident that occurred more than 12 years ago.

Writing for the majority, Court of Appeals Associate Justice Cliff Hoofman said the high court lacked jurisdiction because the trial court did not specify the exact amount Ford would pay, therefore the judgment was not final.

Appeals Court Justice Josephine Liner Hart disagreed with the ruling, writing that the majority did not “perform a simple arithmetical operation that is routinely taught in the second grade, division by two.”

Paulette R. Washington filed a lawsuit against Ford Motor Co., Freeway Ford Lincoln-Mercury and Karen Allen Williams after a 2004 Ford Explorer driven by Johnny Ray Washington and his son Terian was struck on the driver’s side by a vehicle driven by Karen Allen Williams, who ran a stop sign.

The Explorer rolled over twice and landed right-side up. and Johnny Ray Williams was killed in the accident.

Washington and Karen Allen Williams settled and the claims against Freeway Ford were dismissed, leaving Ford Motor Co., as the only defendant.

At trial in 2010, Washington alleged that the Explorer had two defects, the propensity to roll over and the use of tempered, rather than laminated, glass in the side windows that made ejection or partial ejection in a rollover more likely.

Even though Karen Allen Williams had been dismissed, Circuit Judge Berlin C. Jones allowed her name to be placed on the jury verdict form for purposes of determining liability .

The jury returned a verdict against Ford Motor and Karen Allen Williams equally, awarding $4,652,125 in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages.

Ford Motor and Washington disagreed on the exact amount Ford owed, and Jones entered into the record copies of the jury’s verdict on each question they were required to answer, including a form that said Ford Motor Co., and Karen Allen Williams were each 50 percent responsible for the death.

Hoofman said that because Jones’ judgment order does not set out a specific amount, in dollars and cents, it is not final.

“It is unclear whether Ford is responsible for half of the compensatory damages listed, half of the punitive damages listed, all of both, or some combination thereof,” Hoofman said in the ruling.

In her dissent, Hart said the majority decision is not supported by case law.

“The majority has not cited a single case where this court has dismissed an appeal because a trial judge failed to put a jury verdict in a kind of format this court likes better,” Hart wrote. “In my view, the judgment is final.”