On December 27, 2005, Eric Polston and his fiancé, Mea Powers, were traveling State Highway 168, in Greene County, Arkansas, about 13 miles away from Jonesboro. They were on their way to show a Christmas puppy to Eric’s mother.
Eighteen-year old Eric, a starting fullback for Hoxie High School, had just finished his senior season and was enjoying the Christmas season with his friends, family and loved ones. Little did Eric know his Christmas, his future and his life were about to be changed forever.
A dog suddenly ran in front of Eric’s 1998 Ford Windstar causing him to swerve to his right and the van began to roll. Eric was wearing his seatbelt; however, during the course of the rollover, Eric was ejected from the vehicle and sustained paralyzing injuries. As a result of the accident Eric is a tetraplegic with partial use of his hands and arms.
On Friday, October 15, 2010, almost five years after his accident, Eric Polston was awarded a $19.1 million dollar verdict against Ford Motor Company in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Federal District Judge Price Marshall presided over the case.
Lead counsel, Jim Pratt, indicated he is particularly proud of the jury who heard this case. They were intelligent, hardworking, and conscientious people who took the case very seriously. Despite the complexity of some of the engineering issues, they clearly understood the evidence. Although this case did not involve any punitive damages, hopefully, auto makers worldwide will take notice of the need to put safety over aesthetics in designing seatbelts.
The defect claim focused on the design of the buckle and particularly the release button housed within the buckle of the restraint system on the 1998 Windstar. The design utilized by Ford featured a protruding button. The top of the button is located above the top of the buckle housing permitting easier access to the button. The protrusion of the button renders the design of the buckle defective and unreasonably dangerous because it presents an unnecessary hazard for inadvertent release.
Mr. Pratt emphasized the verdict will provide the funds for implementing a life care plan for Eric Polston.
Eric’s mom, Lucie, is a single mom who, like most people in today’s economy, struggles with the demands of everyday life in addition to having to provide round-the-clock care for Eric. This judgment will give Eric and his mom the financial resources to take the load off of Lucie and to provide benefits which will improve the quality of his life and security for the future. When the jury’s verdict came in, one of the things Eric was most thrilled about was the jury’s vindication about his seatbelt use. The jury believed Eric and that was important to him.