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Confidential Settlement Obtained in Ford Lap Belt Case

After a six-week and one day jury trial in Nashville, North Carolina, Hunt Willis of the Raleigh law firm Martin & Jones along with co-counsel Kent Emison of Langdon & Emison, reached a confidential settlement with Ford Motor Co. on behalf of a sixteen- year-old boy who suffered life-altering injuries from the two-point lap belt he was wearing in a car accident that rendered him paraplegic. The boy was eleven years old at the time of the accident.

The lawsuit stemmed from an August 2010 accident in which the child was one of three backseat passengers in a 1999 Ford Escort driven by his mother in Nash County, when a vehicle pulled out directly into the path of the family’s Escort and collided with the Escort’s front end. Despite driving below the speed limit, the mother was unable to stop.

The child, who was in the middle seating position, “jackknifed” over the lap belt and suffered severe spinal cord and abdominal injuries that left him confined to a wheelchair. He was the only person wearing a two-point lap belt, and consequently, the only occupant who suffered devastating and permanent injuries. The other four occupants of the Escort are fully recovered.

Two-point belts, or lap belts, concentrate the crash forces on the abdomen, exposing vital organs and the lower spinal column to serious injuries, such as those sustained by the child. Emison told the jury the child’s injuries were directly caused by the defective lap belt and that if he had been wearing a lap-shoulder belt, his injuries would not have been as severe.

Numerous documents showed the extent of Ford’s knowledge of the defect since the 1960s. In 1967, Ford’s biomechanics department manager wrote a paper that clearly stated lap belts provide no upper body support, allowing the body to jackknife over the belt and causing severe spinal injuries.

“Ford knew for decades that lap belts were dangerous and caused severe injuries, yet the automaker refused to install safer seatbelts in all seating positions, knowing that for as little as $12 per vehicle, children like our client could have been kept safe from harm,” said Emison.