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Ford motor pays scanlan client $1.5 million for death caused by slow deploying airbag

A 48-year-old woman was killed when the air bag in the 1998 Ford Ranger pickup she was driving was slow to deploy after she was involved in a low speed collision.

After Edmund J. Scanlan filed a negligence suit against Ford, he sought discovery of the truck’s data recorder-a type of “black box” or onboard computer system that monitors and saves data regarding the performance of a number of the vehicle’s functions, including the performance of its airbags. After obtaining this computerized data, Scanlan’s experts were able to determine, after an incredibly painstaking analysis, that the air bag had deployed from the steering wheel in 118 milliseconds rather than the much faster 50-60 milliseconds as the bag is designed to do. Because of this delay in the air bag’s deployment, the driver’s head had time to bend forward after the collision; as a result, when the air bag finally deployed, it struck the driver on the chin and snapped her neck.

Faced with this evidence, Ford chose to settle the case rather than fight it at trial, and settled with the family of the driver for $1.5 million. Although Ford did not admit liability in the settlement, it sought to prevent the family from publicly revealing the settlement by insisting on a confidentiality provision in the settlement agreement. Scanlan, however, objected to this provision, and, after threatening to take the matter to trial, Ford dropped its demand for confidentiality. “I make it a practice of resisting large corporations’ demands to keep their settlements confidential,” said Scanlan, “because the public has an absolute right to know if their vehicles are unsafe. If a company tries to keep this type of information confidential, I simply tell them that I’ll take the matter to trial. It usually drops its demand for confidentiality at that point.”

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