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Jury Rules for Ford in Lawsuit over Fatal Accident

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Jackson County jury has again decided that Ford Motor Co. owes no damages to a Kansas man who was seriously injured when a Ford vehicle burst into flames in a 2003 accident that also killed a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper.

The jury decided Monday, after a month long trial, that Ford was not at fault for an accident that seriously injured Michael Nolte, 57, of Leawood, Kan. Nolte sued Ford for more than $46 million in compensatory damages.

Nolte and Trooper Michael Newton were sitting in the trooper’s Crown Victoria patrol car along Interstate 70 on May 22, 2003, when it was hit from behind by a truck towing a trailer that was going 65 mph, causing the car to burst into flames. Newton was killed but witnesses were able to pull Nolte from the wreckage.

A jury also found in favor of Ford in a 2005 trial but the Missouri Supreme Court ordered a new trial. Newton’s family reached a confidential settlement with Ford before this trial, The Kansas City Star reported .

Grant Davis, one of the lawyers who represented Nolte and his wife, argued during the trial that the design of the Crown Victoria was defective and Ford was aware of its propensity to catch fire in rear-end collisions. He said the “root cause” of the fire was Ford’s decision to place the car’s gas tank behind the rear axle.

“Even though Ford prevailed, we hope Ford takes the opportunity to improve its product,” Davis said after the trial.

Newton had pulled Nolte over to give him a warning about driving too long in the passing lane when the accident occurred. The truck driver later said he was reaching for some sunglasses when he crashed.

The collision tore the car’s fuel filler tube, causing the car to burst into flames. Nolte spent 65 days in a hospital burn unit and has undergone skin grafts and surgeries. Davis told the jury during closing arguments that Nolte will be in pain for the rest of his life, suffers from post-traumatic stress, has difficulty sleeping and has considered suicide.

“While Ford’s sympathies go out to the Nolte family, we agree with the jury that Ford should not be blamed for Mr. Nolte’s injuries,” said Jim Feeney, an attorney who represented Ford. “The true cause of this accident was the distracted driver of the 13,000-pound vehicle that ran into the parked police interceptor at 65 mph.”

Feeney said the Crown Victoria police vehicles were designed to the highest rear-impact standards of any vehicle in the world.

“Ford has done all that is reasonable to reduce the risk of fire in its products, but no gas-powered vehicle is fireproof in such extreme collisions,” he said.
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(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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