Under Prop 213, Auto Maker Not Liable For Pain and Suffering of Badly Burned Teen — For Now
A consumer group announced today its disappointment with a Court of Appeal ruling that allows Ford Motor Company to use a 1996 voter initiative targeting uninsured drivers as a shield against responsibility for injuries cause by a dangerously-designed Mustang. The initiative, Proposition 213, is at the center of a controversy involving teenager Ben Hodges’ products liability lawsuit, in which even the sponsor of Proposition 213, Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush, argued against its use to relieve Ford of liability.
Hodges sued Ford after suffering severe burns from an exploding gas tank in a 1967 Mustang he borrowed from a friend. A seventeen-year-old honor student and recipient of numerous good citizenship awards, he was unable to afford insurance. Consumer watchdog group The Proposition 103 Enforcement Project today received the court’s ruling that it will let stand an interim trial court decision that relieves Ford from full liability for Hodges’ injuries.
Dubbed “The Personal Responsibility Act,” Prop 213 prevents uninsured motorists, as well as felons and convicted drunk drivers, from recovering for pain and suffering as a result of disfigurement or serious physical impairment from an auto accident. Although intended to apply only to lawsuits between motorists, and not products liability cases against auto makers, the initiative is broadly worded, allowing Ford to argue for its use to prevent Hodges from recovering full compensation in his case. Hodges did not have insurance when the 1967 Mustang he was driving was rear-ended, puncturing the gas tank, and leaving the honor student with severe burns over 26% of his body. All pre-1971 Ford Mustangs have the design defect that caused Hodges’ injuries. The case, Hodges v. Ford Motor Company, is being litigated in Santa Clara Superior Court and Hodges is being represented by San Francisco attorney David Rand.
“An ardent supporter of the initiative process,” the Project filed a brief in support of Hodges’ claim for full recovery stating: “If initiatives are used in ways the electorate so clearly never intended and never anticipated, voters will be distrustful of future ballot measures. They may come to feel deceived by the initiative process and the process will lose its credibility.”
The Court of Appeals’ interim ruling is not the end of the story. Hodges can seek further review from the California Supreme Court.