Case details

Defense: Tie rod broke during rollover, not prior to crash





Result type

Not present

back, bruise, cervical, chest, fracture, lumbar, neck, pulmonary, rib, scapula, shoulder, strain, thoracic
On Jan. 8, 2010, plaintiff Leopoldo Rodriguez, 68, a retired gardener, was driving a 1999 Ford F-150 pickup truck with plaintiff Maria Cuevas, an unemployed 53 year old, in the front passenger seat. They were traveling at 65 mph on Interstate 101, south of Santa Barbara, when their vehicle skidded out of control to the right, rotating clockwise approximately 180 degrees. Their vehicle subsequently swerved off the side of the freeway and down an embankment, where it rolled over. Rodriguez and Cuevas each sustained bodily in the accident. They claimed that a defect in the front, left tie rod of their truck’s steering system caused the tie rod to break and result in the accident. Cuevas sued the manufacturer of the vehicle, Ford Motor Co., and the driver of the pickup, Rodriguez. Cuevas alleged that Rodriguez was negligent in the operation of the pickup truck and that Ford Motor defectively designed and manufactured the vehicle. In addition, Rodriguez also sued Ford Motor Co., alleging design and manufacturing defects with the pickup truck. Rodriguez’s insurance company ultimately settled with Cuevas prior to trial. Thus, the matter proceeded to trial on the claims of Cuevas and Rodriguez, as a plaintiff, against Ford Motor only. Counsel representing both Cuevas and Rodriguez initially contended that the tie rod contained both design and manufacturing defects. However, at trial, the design defect and punitive damages claims were dismissed, leaving only a manufacturing defect claim. Plaintiffs’ counsel contended that a defect in the manufacturing of the tie rod caused it to break. However, counsel could not identify a specific manufacturing defect at trial, other than to say the tie rod simply was not strong enough. Ford Motor claimed that the tie rod was not defective and did not break prior to the crash, but that the tie rod broke due to forces it experienced during the rollover accident. It alleged that the accident occurred when the truck’s front, left tire was punctured, and when Rodriguez overreacted and swerved the truck to the right, causing it to slide off of the freeway and overturn. Ford Motor’s failure analysis expert presented metallurgic evidence that he opined established that the tie rod fractured due to an overload. The expert also presented vehicle testing showing that, even under the theory presented by the plaintiffs, the tie rod spontaneously broke while the truck was driving on the highway and that the truck would not go out of control due to the failure of a front tie rod., Cuevas and Rodriguez were both taken to a hospital and admitted for treatment. Cuevas suffered a left, non-dominant shoulder fracture; cervical, thoracic and lumber strains; and a bruise to her left breast. She did not undergo surgery, but received repeated cortisone injections and complained of daily pain in her middle back and shoulder. Thus, Cuevas sought recovery of damages, including $32,620.70 in total past medical expenses and $100,000 in pain and suffering. Rodriguez suffered multiple left rib fractures, a left scapular fracture and a contusion on his left lung. He did not undergo surgery, but was treated in the hospital for several days before being released. However, he complained of constant pain in his back, neck and shoulder that interfered with activities of daily living. Thus, Rodriguez sought recovery of damages, including $12,678.39 in total past medical expenses and $100,000 in pain and suffering.
Superior Court of Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara, CA

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