The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Ford Motor Co. “willfully” misled plaintiffs about its insurance coverage in a product liability case involving a vehicular rollover, and agreed with a lower court’s decision granting the plaintiffs a new trial.
Plaintiffs Jordan and Renee Conley sued Ford in December 2007 for a Ford Explorer rollover crash in 2006 that killed one person and left another with traumatic brain injury. A state jury, however, returned a verdict in favor of Ford in the 2009 trial.
Since that ruling, however, evidence emerged in another case that indicated Ford intentionally misled the plaintiffs during the pre-trial discovery process. The Conleys had asked Ford if it had insurers that could cover damages in the case. Ford responded that its funds were sufficient to cover any judgment in the case and objected that the inquiry was too broad and sought irrelevant information.
The question is asked so that potential jurors who also hold policies with a defendant’s insurers may be screened for conflicts of interest.
The Georgia Supreme Court said that the plaintiffs satisfied their due diligence obligations by accepting Ford’s response as a valid one. Ford essentially argued that the plaintiffs could have found out about its six insurers in some other way before that information surfaced in another trial.
“If this case is to teach any lesson, it is that the civil discovery process is supposed to work to allow the parties to obtain the information they need to prove and defend their cases at trial before impartial juries,” the Georgia Supreme Court panel said in its opinion.
“Discovery is not supposed to be a game in which parties maneuver to hide the truth about relevant facts, and when a party does intentionally mislead its adversary, it bears the risk that the truth will later be revealed and that the judgment it obtained will be re-opened to allow a new trial based on the truth,” the court said.
According the Daily Report, the high court’s decision in this case attracted a lot of widespread attention. The national Product Liability Advisory Counsel said that a new trial order threatened business interests and could create a flood of others.
The Georgia Trial Lawyers Association said the order for a new trial must be upheld to protect “the right of all litigants to a just verdict rendered by a fair, impartial and constitutionally valid jury” the Daily Report said.