The Ohio Supreme Court decided the case of Linert v. Ford Motor Company, Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-8445 on December 29, 2016, stating that the trial court properly refused to instruct the jury on the manufacturer’s post market duty to warn consumers and overruled and reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals for Mahoning County.
On November 11, 2007, Ross Linert, a veteran police officer with the Austintown Township Police was working on patrol in a department issued Ford Crown Victoria when he was struck by a drunk driver whose blood alcohol level was more than 3 times the legal limit and was traveling at speeds estimated at 90 to 110 miles per hour – 3 times the posted speed limit. Upon collision, the fuel-sender unit separated from the fuel tank, creating a hole in the fuel tank that released fuel and ignited, spreading fire from the rear of the vehicle into the passenger compartment. The police officer sustained severe, painful burn injuries to nearly a third of his body, including his face, head, arms, and legs. He is now disabled.
Suit was initiated against Ford for its failure to warn customers of the risks associated with the placement of the vehicle’s fuel tank and the lack of a fire-suppression system. Expert testimony noted that there had been 34 other accidents for the same vehicle involved in rear impact collisions with damage to the fuel containment system, resulting in fire and burn injury or death to the vehicle’s occupants.
The trial court refused to instruct the jury on the issue of whether Ford had a duty to give post marketing warning of a risk associated with the vehicle.
Such a warning under the law is required so that the manufacturer exercising reasonable care would have provided warning concerning the risk in light of the likelihood that the product would cause harm of the type for which the claimant seek to recover damages. The Supreme Court held that although evidence of 34 similar accidents was put before the jury, the Plaintiff did not sufficiently address the likelihood of a substantial risk to the police officer. This is despite the fact that Ford knew of the risks inherent in its fuel tank design and subsequently altered the location of the fuel tank to make it safer.