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Ford loses Supreme Court decision, state claims can go forward

Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

The U.S. Supreme Court said in a unanimous decision Thursday that product liability lawsuits against Ford Motor Co. in two states could move forward even though the vehicles in question were not produced in those states.

In the case, Ford's lawyers had argued that because the vehicles involved in an incident that killed a Montana woman in 2015 and another that year in which a Minnesota man was injured were not originally manufactured or sold in those states, cases brought against the company in state courts should be preempted.

Ford didn't immediately comment on the decision.

The Constitution's due process clause generally limits the jurisdiction of state courts over defendants based on the level of their activities in the state. And while Ford does business in both states, it argued that a legal action against it requires a more specific connection between its actions in a state and the cause of a lawsuit to permit a case to be brought against it there, warning of "a loose and spurious form of general jurisdiction" that could arise nationally otherwise.

The court, however, rejected that argument in an 8-0 decision, following a hearing last October in which both liberal and conservative justices questioned why someone shouldn't be able to bring a case against a company doing business nationally regardless of where they live.

 

Writing the opinion, Justice Elena Kagan repeated those sentiments, saying, "When a car company like Ford serves a market for a product in a state and that product causes injury in the state to one of its residents, the state’s courts may entertain the resulting suit."

"Ford is a global auto company," she continued. "(It's) business is everywhere… To enhance its brand and increase its sales, Ford engages in wide-ranging promotional activities, including television, print, online and direct-mail advertisements. No matter where you live, you’ve seen them: 'Have you driven a Ford lately?' or 'Built Ford Tough.' "

Even in cases where a vehicle at issue in a lawsuit may not have been made or purchased in the state where a crash occurred, she said, the driver may have bought it "because he saw ads for the car in local media" or other efforts by Ford to sell other vehicles there, establishing a firm enough connection.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not take part in the decision as she wasn't on the court when the case was heard.

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