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Trent v. Ford Motor Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division

February 20, 2014

VIRGA TRENT, Plaintiff,

For Virga Trent, Plaintiff: David E. Harris, Corpus Christi, TX; Rick A. Johnson, Paducah, KY; William C. Alexander, Sico White Hoelscher & Braugh, Corpus Christi, TX.

For Ford Motor Company, Defendant: Patrick X. Fowler, LEAD ATTORNEY, Snell & Wilmer, Phoenix, AZ; R. Thad Keal, LEAD ATTORNEY, Turner, Keal & Dallas PLLC, Prospect, KY.


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Thomas B. Russell, Senior United States District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court upon Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket No. 34.) The Plaintiff has responded, (Docket No. 42), and the Defendant has replied, (Docket No. 46). This mater is now ripe for adjudication. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED.


On May 29, 2009, Plaintiff Virga Trent was traveling northbound on U.S. Highway 45 when she suddenly lost control of her vehicle, a 1991 Crown Victoria manufactured by Ford Motor Company (" Ford" or " the Company" ). The vehicle crossed the roadway's median and struck the guardrail on the opposite side. During the course of the accident, the driver's side airbag deployed and struck Trent's right eye, eventually resulting in permanently disabling injuries. Trent now brings a strict products liability action against Ford.[1] She alleges that her injuries resulted from Ford's negligent design of the airbag crash sensing system, which she argues deployed unnecessarily and was sold in a defective and unreasonably dangerous condition.

At the heart of the dispute is whether the severity of Trent's accident necessitated the airbag's deployment. The airbag crash sensing system is intended to detect a deployment-worthy crash and cause the driver's side airbag to deploy accordingly. The 1991 Crown Victoria has five crash detection sensors: three " discriminating' sensors on the vehicle's forward left, forward center, and forward right sections, and two " safing" sensors, one located with the forward discriminating sensor and the other located in the passenger compartment. David Bauch, a Ford Motor Company

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crash and rollover specialist, explained that these sensors belong to the electrical circuit that deploys the airbag. Known as " ball and tube" sensors, they " close" when the deceleration force causes a ball to move down the tube, closing the electrical circuit. (Id.) The airbag deploys when one of the vehicle's two safing sensors and one of three discriminating sensors close at the same time, completing the electrical circuit. (The system's " overlap" requirement is designed to avoid accidental airbag deployments.[2]

Trent alleges that the airbag errantly deployed as a result of defective design, given that the accident was not severe. Her airbag crash sensing design expert, Chris Caruso, describes the crash as a " relatively minor" impact with the guardrail that did not require the airbag's deployment. (Docket No. 34-7 at 7.) Caruso opines that the sensing system was defectively designed or calibrated because it employed a dual sensor--that is, a safing sensor and a discriminating sensor--located in the vehicle's front crush zone. According to Caruso, Ford improperly packaged the two sensors together, causing the airbag to deploy needlessly. Caruso concludes that this design defect caused the airbag's inadvertent deployment and Trent's resultant injury.[3]

According to Ford, Caruso admitted during his deposition that his assessments were based on incorrect assumptions and that the would-be defects he identified did not cause the airbag's deployment. The company further argues that Caruso conceded that the airbag crash sensing system had no manufacturing flaws or malfunctions. Ford now moves for summary judgment, contending that Trent cannot prove that the vehicle was defective and unreasonably dangerous or that any alleged defects caused the airbag's deployment.


Summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show " that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and determine " whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The " [s]ummary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of ...

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