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High Court Ruling Ends A Very Tough Week For Ford

When the week dawned Monday who could have guessed that Ford would be forced to cut back on assembly lie shifts due to semiconductor shortages and then have the Supreme Court rule against the company unanimously?It's doubtful that even no one could have foreseen this week.

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The auto gods haven't been kind to Ford this week. After announcing shutdowns at its truck assembly plant because of the shortfall in semiconductors, the Supreme Court this week had more bad news for one of the nation's largest automakers.

High Court Ruling Unanimous

In a unanimous ruling, the high court ruled that Ford can face product liability suits that resulted from a pair of severe crashes in Montana and Minnesota. Ford had argued that each state's court should have jurisdiction only if the automaker's conduct in those states had given rise to the claims.

According to Reuters, the automaker told the court:

  • That the vehicles involved in the crash were designed in Michigan
  • That the vehicles involved in the crash were built in Kentucky and Canada
  • That the vehicles were sold in states other than Montana and Minnesota

In its argument to the Supreme Court, the automaker believed that courts in Montana and Minnesota should only have jurisdiction if the claims had arisen in each state. Ford had appealed rulings made by top Montana and Minnesota courts.

Ford's Argument Based On Locations

Ford had argued that because the vehicles involved in the crashes were sourced, built, and sold in multiple jurisdictions, courts in Montana and Minnesota shouldn't decide each case.

In a rare display of judicial comity, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected Ford's argument. Writing for the court, Justice Elena Kagan, one of the liberals on the high court, told Ford, in no uncertain terms, that the justices had rejected "that argument."

In a ruling written by Justice Elena Kagan, the court told Ford that when a "company like Ford serves a market for a product in a state, and that product causes injury in a state to one of its residents, the state's courts may entertain the resulting suit."

The justice pointed out that Ford does a great deal of business in the two states as shown by "every means imaginable – among them billboards, TV, radio spots, print ads, and direct mail." She concluded that the automaker urged Montanans and Minnesotans to buy its products."

Court Rules Based On Ford Business Model

Because of the amount of business the automaker does in each state, Ford will now face individual legal actions. It now must face actions brought with cases within each state.

Ford said, in a statement, that the high court "provided clarity about jurisdiction for certain types of product-liability cases – precision which is good for all parties, including companies across multiple industries whose interests were represented by briefs filed in support of our request."

The cases on which the high court ruled involved an SUV crash in Montana and a car crash in Minnesota. In the SUV crash, a woman was killed due to tread separation on a rear tire of a 1996 Ford Explorer. After the separation, the vehicle went into a spin and ended up in a ditch.

Second Crash Involved Crown Vic

In the second crash, a 1994 Crown Vic rear-ended a snowplow, ending up in a ditch. A passenger in the Minnesota full-sized sedan received severe brain injuries when one of the vehicle's airbags didn't deploy following the crack-up.
Marc Stern has been an automotive writer since 1971 when an otherwise normal news editor said, "You're our new car editor," and dumped about 27 pounds of auto stuff on my desk. I was in heaven as I have been a gearhead from my early days. As a teen, I spent the usual number of misspent hours hanging out at gas stations Shell and Texaco (a big thing in my youth) and working on cars. From there on, it was a straight line to my first column for the paper, "You Auto Know," an enterprise that I handled faithfully for 32 years. Not too many people know that I also handled computer documentation for a good part of my living while writing YAN. My best writing, though, was always in cars. My work has appeared in venues including Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, AutoWeek, SuperStock, Trailer Life, Old Cars Weekly, Special Interest Autos, and others. You can follow me on: Twitter or Facebook.

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