THEIR VIEW: Statute of limitations question important to class actions against Ford

By The West Virginia Record | Jul 12, 2013


Back in April, this blog discussed a class action lawsuit filed in federal district court against Ford Motor Company. Now a second class action lawsuit has been filed in federal court in West Virginia, claiming that certain Ford vehicles suffered from sudden acceleration problems, resulting in collisions.

Like the first class action lawsuit, this one was filed against Ford Motor Company in the District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. The vehicles involved in the lawsuit were manufactured between 2002 and 2010.

The injured parties claimed that the Ford vehicles lacked an adequate fail-safe system that would have protected them from the effects of sudden, unintended acceleration. Although the vehicles had electronic throttle control, that was not enough to override the effects.

The injured parties in the class action consisted of 100 people from all over the United States, seeking a total of $5 million for their purchase costs and/or injuries. They owned a variety of Ford models. One individual owned a Ford F-150, and though she did not experience sudden, unintended acceleration, she argued that had she known her vehicle was capable of such problems, she never would have paid the amount that she paid. Others have echoed her claims.

The injured parties argue that they filed their suit before the statute of limitations, the time period during which you can file a lawsuit, ran out because they could not have known that Ford vehicles had problems with sudden acceleration if Ford Motor Company had not revealed them. The lawsuit also includes vehicles made by Lincoln and Mercury during the same years. West Virginia product liability attorneys and attorneys from other states are taking part in the suit.

The injured parties' complaint does not state whether they are faulting Ford Motor Company for negligence, or just strict liability. In a product liability lawsuit, you do not need to argue that the manufacturer was negligent -- that is, that it acted unreasonably -- to find it liable.

You just need to argue that the manufacturer created a product that (1) was unreasonably dangerous in individual form (came off of the assembly line defective), (2) was designed to be unreasonably dangerous (the situation with Ford), and/or (3) had an inadequate warning label that failed to alert you to the dangers of the product.

An unreasonably dangerous product constitutes a "breach" of the duty the manufacturer has to consumers. As a result of the breach, you must suffer injury from the product. Most people in this situation sue for "damages," or a money award, for pain and suffering, medical bills, property damage, and a variety of other ills stemming from the injury.

One interesting issue in this case is whether the statute of limitations has already run. Most of the time, statutes of limitations are governed by state law. The number of years can vary, depending upon the nature of the dispute.

In some cases, the statute of limitations may start running from the date the injury has occurred; in other cases, it starts running from the point the injured party was aware of the injury. In West Virginia, the statute of limitations for personal injury is two years from when the injury occurred.

For product liability, it is two years from the time of injury, or from when the injury should have been reasonably detected. If the statute of limitations is up, you are barred from recovering damages in the lawsuit, even if you would win on the merits.

The Wolfe Law Firm is an Elkins personal injury firm founded by Dorwin Wolfe. This editorial appeared on the firm's blog.

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