Ford Airbag Wrongful Death Case Settles During Mediation - $1,295,408 In Damages Alleged

Rosmarie Russell, a 47 year old resident of Aurora, Missouri, was killed on June 17, 2007 in a head-on motor vehicle collision at 2:50 a.m. on U.S. 60, 1 mile west of Missouri 39 near Aurora. Russell was returning home from her job as a second shift supervisor for a local Tyson Foods factory and driving her 2001 Mercury Grand Marquis. The collision began when a 2002 Lincoln LS driven by Christopher Ollendick crossed the center line and hit Russell’s vehicle head-on. Ollendick, who was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter because of intoxication and sentenced to 7 years, walked out of the crash. The Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) investigated the crash and found that the airbag in Ollendick’s vehicle had fired and that the airbag in Russell’s vehicle had not.

The investigating officer for the MSHP removed the restraint control module (RCM) from Russell’s vehicle and sent it to the National Highway & Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for testing. The MSHP and NHTSA were ultimately unable to decode the data on the 2001 RCM without cooperation from Ford. On February 1, 2010, plaintiff Kenneth Russell filed suit against Ford in Lawrence County to compel Ford’s cooperation in decoding the RCM data. Following a stipulated protective order by the parties, Ford relinquished the data on the RCM which indicated that there had been some type of malfunction during the crash. The actual cause for the malfunction was never determined.

An autopsy indicated that the cause of Rosmarie Russell’s death was a ring fracture at the base of the skull caused by the head snapping forward during the crash. Plaintiff contended that had the vehicle’s air bag fired properly, Rosmarie Russell’s head would not have snapped far enough forward to cause the ring fracture. Defendant argued that there was no way to determine whether or not Russell would have survived the severe crash even if the airbag had fired. During mediation, plaintiff pointed out that the best evidence that Russell would have survived the crash was the fact that the collision forces on both vehicles were almost identical and that Ollendick walked away from the crash. Plaintiff also had an economist prepare an economic loss report which indicated that the economic losses were $1,295,408. The case was resolved during mediation with mediator Mark Kempton for a confidential amount.

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