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ARTICLE ID 49019

CONFIDENTIAL DURING TRIAL Product liability - Failure to warn of rollover propensity of 15 passenger van - Negligent entrustment of dangerous vehicles to drivers who were inexperienced - Strict liability - Design defect consisting of over-steer condition - Wrongful death of five occupants - Serious injuries to remaining occupants including head injuries, fractured skull, concussions, scarring, fractured ribs, fractured pelvis, closed fracture of seventh cervical vertebra, fracture of metatarsal bone, back fracture, jaw fracture, tibia fractures, traumatic brain injury, cervical spine fracture, contusions, abrasions, lacerations, sprains and strains.

Alameda County, California

This was a product liability matter in which the plaintiffs allege that the defendant, Ford Motor Company, was strictly liable for an over-steer condition on its fifteen passenger vans which caused a likelihood of rollover and for failing to warn the plaintiffs and the decedents of the propensity of the vans to rollover. The plaintiff further alleged that the defendant, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, was negligent in failing to advise the plaintiffs and decedents of the fact that they were aware of the rollover propensity of the vans that they rented to the plaintiffs and for negligently entrusting the fifteen passenger vans to the drivers who lacked experience to operate such vehicles. The defendants argued that the driver of the van fell asleep and was the cause of the rollover and resulting injuries.

The injured plaintiffs and decedents were members of a youth church group. The group had rented three fifteen passenger Ford vans from the defendant, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, in San Francisco for a weekend retreat in Southern California. The three vans left the church parking lot on Friday, March 28, ________. The vans were all operated by drivers over the age of 25, but none of the drivers held Class B or C driver’s licenses. While the vans were traveling north on Highway 15, one of the van’s left tires traveled onto the rumble strip and then back onto the highway. It is uncertain the reason that the vehicle swerved as it did. The van then rolled over, ejecting five of the 14 occupants. The five persons ejected were killed. The remaining passenger sustained serious injuries including multiple fractures, brain injuries, lacerations, contusions, sprains and strains.

The families of the deceased occupants and the survivors brought suit against the defendants, Ford Motor Company and Enterprise Rent-A-Car. The plaintiffs contended that prior to the rental date the defendant, Enterprise, had been made aware of safety hazards to 15 passenger vans and had been specifically requested by the federal government to advise consumers of the hazards when renting the vans. The plaintiffs contended that the defendant, Enterprise, failed to advise the plaintiffs of the dangers as required by the federal government. In addition, the plaintiffs contended that the defendant had a policy that a Rental Agreement addendum, which met the government’s requirements, was to be attached to all rental agreements advising that occupancy of these vans by more than 10 persons presented a known rollover risk and was more difficult to handle. In addition, the defendant was advised to require that in light of such hazards the vans should be driven only by experienced drivers. The plaintiffs further contended that under California law, drivers of non- profit vans required a Class B license. The defendant, Enterprise, negligently entrusted the vehicles to the drivers without advising that the drivers must hold Class B licenses.

In addition, the plaintiffs brought suit against Ford Motor Company alleging that the defendant was strictly liable since it knew that there was an over-steer condition on the van when it was loaded with more than ten occupants and this created a hazardous condition which it failed to warn about and failed to correct. The plaintiff further alleged that the defendants were aware that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration had issued a consumer advisory regarding the occupancy of 15 passenger vans by more than 10 passengers. The advisory stated that these vans with increased occupancy were nearly three times more likely to rollover in a single vehicle crash than vans with fewer passengers. The defendants failed to warn the renter of the vans of this advisory.

The defendants argued that the driver of the van had fallen asleep and was negligent in the operation of the van which was the direct and proximate result of the plaintiff’s injuries. The defendants also argued that the church was negligent in supervising and planning the trip. The defendants further argued that some of the occupants were unrestrained which was the cause of their injuries and/or death.

The plaintiffs countered that evidence proved that the defendant. Enterprise, failed to ever advise drivers of the requirement for Class B licenses and further that the defendant agency had failed to ever advise the plaintiffs of the requirement regarding the overloading of the passenger vans on any of the other numerous occasions that the church had rented the same type of vans from the defendant.

The plaintiffs had previously settled with the church and the driver for the sum of $________ which represented the insurance policy limits prior to filing suit against the defendants. The court had approved a good faith settlement motion barring any cross-complaints against the settling parties. In addition, the plaintiffs settled for a confidential sum with the defendant Ford prior to designation of expert witnesses. The matter proceeded to trial as to the rental company defendants. During the plaintiffs’ case in chief, the plaintiffs with the exception of the plaintiff driver reached confidential settlements with the defendant. During jury deliberations, the plaintiff driver settled his claims with the defendant for a confidential sum.

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