Ford Motor Co. v. Fulkerson, 812 S.W.2d 119 (Ky. 1991)

Under products liability, is Ford Motor Company liable for manufacturing, selling, or distributing a product in defective condition, when the spindle stem separated from the spindle body before the accident occurred without a secondary design in mind?

“Defective condition…can result from either defects in design or manufacture of the spindle assembly.”  (Ford, 812 S.W.2d at 122).   “considerations such as feasibility of making a safer product, patency of the danger, warnings and instructions, subsequent maintenance and repair, misuse, and the products’ inherently unsafe characteristics, while they have a bearing on the question as to whether the product was manufactured in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous, are all factors bearing on the principal question rather than separate legal questions.”  (Id. at 123, 24).   “With the advent of strict liability for defective products, the focus shifts from the conduct of the actor to the conduct of the product.”  (Id. at 125).

Cilone originally brought a products liability claim again Ford Motor Company when the wheel assembly separated and caused a collision with Fulkerson.   The plaintiff is claiming that the collision was caused by Ford’s truck losing its wheel.   Experts found that the “left front wheel separated from the truck and then became lodged beneath it as both the truck and wheel slid across the center line towards the oncoming vehicle…there was a defect when it left the manufacturer.”  (Id. at 120).   A couple other experts testified, including a Ford employee, stating that the vehicle was manufactured defective and design defective.  (Id. at 121).   The manufacturing defect came from a poor fit between the spindle stem and spindle body – this allowed air and water to loosen the stem within the body.  (Id. at 121).   Ford failed to prepare a secondary feature to prevent the spindle stem and spindle body from loosening.   Several secondary features were available during this time.

Trial court held in favor of Ford Motor Company.   Court of Appeals reversed because “the instructions were erroneous and trial error in excluding evidence of a change in design of the product.” (Id. at 120).

Here, the vehicle left Ford Company with only one design in mind.   After an accident occurred, experts found that the vehicle was in a defective condition because it was possible for Ford to create a secondary design in case the spindle stem and spindle body loosened, which in this case it did.   The court relied on the legal theory of design defect and manufacturing defect.   The design defect occurred when Ford Motor Company did not produce a secondary design to aid in the prevention of accidents occurring.   The manufacturing defect occurred when the spindle stem loosened from the spindle body.

The court held that a secondary design was evident and could have prevented such accident.

The Supreme Court of Kentucky affirmed the Court of Appeals ruling.