Failure-to-Warn Claims Fail Without Evidence Plaintiff Would Have Pursued Alternative Course of Action

An overweight plaintiff who was seriously injured when her car’s seat failed in a collision recently lost her failure-to-warn case against Ford Motor Company. The plaintiff, who weighed more than 300 pounds, was driving a 2002 Ford Explorer at the time of the accident. She had stopped to make a turn and was rear-ended by an SUV travelling approximately 30 miles per hour. During the collision, the plaintiff’s seat collapsed backwards, and her head and shoulders hit the back seat. The impact with the back seat fractured her vertebra rendering her a paraplegic.

The plaintiff claimed that the Explorer’s seats were not designed for a person of her size and that Ford should have provided warnings. She claimed that she would not have purchased the vehicle if she had known that the seats were not designed or tested to perform with occupants of her size. She also claimed that Ford was negligent in failing to design and test seats for occupants who weighed more than 220 pounds.

The trial court granted Ford’s motion for directed verdict. The Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the directed verdict as to a plaintiff’s failure to warn claims. The court held that the plaintiff failed to present evidence that she would have taken an alternative course of action had Ford provided her with warnings. Moore v. Ford Motor Co., — S.W.3d —, No. ED 92770, 2009 WL 4932736 (Mo. Ct. App. Dec. 22, 2009).

The Court of Appeals held that it was it was essential to plaintiff’s failure to warn claim that she prove that “a warning would have altered the behavior of the individuals involved in the accident.” Id. (citing Arnold v. Ingersoll-Rand Co., 834 S.W.2d 192, 194 (Mo. 1992)). Although Missouri law calls for a rebuttable presumption that the plaintiff would have heeded a warning had it been available, the court held that the plaintiff must still offer evidence that she would have pursued an alternative course of action in heeding the warning. Here, the plaintiff offered no evidence of what alternative course of action she would have taken had she been warned of the fact that Ford’s seats had not been tested for a person of her size.

The court found it significant that the plaintiff admitted she did not review the owner’s manual until after she had purchased the car. This undermined her theory that she would have altered her behavior before buying the vehicle, had Ford provided adequate warnings. The court held that there simply was no evidence that plaintiff would have altered her conduct in purchasing the Ford even if there had been warnings. That fact precluded recovery on plaintiff’s failure to warn claims.