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Case Law Update: Punitive Damages in Products Liability

Jackson v. Ford Motor Company, No. 5-05-0723 affirmed a jury verdict for $43 million, including $15 million in punitive damages. The plaintiffs, in 1993 Lincoln Town Car, were rear-ended in dead center of car, at about 60 mph; fuel tank was crushed, and pipe wrench in trunk pierced fuel tank and caught fire immediately; both were severely burned and one Plaintiff died. Products liability and four negligence claims as to design of fuel tank. Court declined to extend due-process analysis of excessive punitive-damage awards to liability for punitive damages. Court concluded both parties received fair trial, as jury heard extensive evidence from both sides, and contested issues were fully and fairly presented. Ample evidence of standard of care and of alternative fuel tank locations recognized and used in auto industry. Defendant failed to submit special interrogatories and thus cannot claim prejudice on claim alleged to be unsupported by sufficient evidence. Proper to admit evidence of Defendant’s pre-injury, post-sale safety improvements, as policy considerations that bar admission of post-accident remedial measures are inapplicable. This case will impact products liability law in Illinois.