Nowell v. Ford Motor Company

February 2007

“Ft. Lauderdale is in Broward County, one of the most difficult jurisdictions for defendants in the United States,” says James M. Campbell, counsel for the defense in that case. “This is a big issue for manufacturers who don’t want to encourage foreign plaintiffs to come here for litigation with the expectation of bigger payouts,” he adds.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers in such cases also have a tactical advantage. In this matter, for example, the witnesses were all in Argentina, the Ford Explorer in question was purchased and driven in Argentina, there were few domestic experts familiar with the roads there, and reconstructing the facts was a difficult and time-consuming task.

The plaintiffs’ team alleged that the passenger’s seatbelt retractor was defective because it permitted webbing to “spool out” during the rollover accident, allowing the passenger to be ejected and killed.

“These lawyers were experienced and aggressive,” James Campbell recalls. But the defense team of Campbell Campbell Edwards & Conroy believed they could win at trial.

They had worked with an investigator, an accident reconstructionist and other experts to demonstrate that the Ford Explorer was not defective, that an alternative design for the seat belt retractor would not have saved the victim’s life, and that the victim was apparently sitting on top of the unlatched seat belt.

“We actually found an Argentine coin jammed into the [opening of the] buckle mechanism [where the belt should insert] rendering it useless,” James Campbell recalls.

As a result of the homework done by the defense and the manner in which the case was presented, the jury voted five to one in favor of Ford, but was considered “hung” because one steadfast holdout is enough in Florida to defeat a verdict. After a second trial, however, another jury returned a unanimous defense verdict in just 90 minutes, shutting the door on the plaintiffs for good.