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106 Cornell Law Review Issue 2

Cornell Law Review Online

Ford’s Hidden Fairness Defect

Linda Sandstrom Simard, Cassandra Burke Robertson, & Charles W. “Rocky” Rhodes

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9 Oct 2020

A consumer saves up to buy a used car. Unbeknownst to him, the vehicle has a design defect—and in a crash, the airbag fails to deploy, leaving his passenger severely injured. Under state law, the injured party has a right to sue the vehicle manufacturer: but where? The obvious forum is the plaintiff’s home forum—it’s where the owner purchased the car, the accident happened, the injured party was hospitalized, and the plaintiff is able to interview local attorneys with experience in local courts.

But there’s a problem—the car manufacturer didn’t sell the car in-state. It sold the car elsewhere, and the used car dealer, or an earlier owner, brought the car into the forum state where it was purchased by its current owner. Of course, the car manufacturer conducted other extensive in-state activities—it advertised its vehicles and marketed its brand, it serviced its vehicles (new and used), and it sold similar models in-state. But is that enough for personal jurisdiction? That question of whether strict causation is needed for personal jurisdiction is scheduled for argument before the United States Supreme Court this month in consolidated cases involving Ford Motor Company.1See Docket Sheet, Ford Motor Co. v. Mont. Eighth Judicial Dist. Ct., 140 S. Ct. 917 (2020) (No. 19-368), https://www.supremecourt.gov/search.aspx?filename=docket/docketfiles/html /public/19-368.html [https://perma.cc/7D9M-M3LC].

The Court’s resolution of this issue will significantly affect future litigation.2See Charles W. “Rocky” Rhodes, Cassandra Burke Robertson & Linda Sandstrom Simard, Ford’s Jurisdictional Crossroads, 109 GEO. L.J. Online 102, 103 (2020). Most immediately, the case will determine whether injured plaintiffs can access a convenient forum in products liability cases. In the long run, however, the case may have a broader and less obvious impact. Specifically, even a seemingly narrow win for Ford could result in an analytical short circuit that cuts off inquiry into the factors that the Supreme Court once held to be primary guarantors of “fair play and substantial justice.”3World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 292 (1980).

To read more, click here: Ford’s Hidden Fairness Defect.

References   [ + ]

1. See Docket Sheet, Ford Motor Co. v. Mont. Eighth Judicial Dist. Ct., 140 S. Ct. 917 (2020) (No. 19-368), https://www.supremecourt.gov/search.aspx?filename=docket/docketfiles/html /public/19-368.html [https://perma.cc/7D9M-M3LC].
2. See Charles W. “Rocky” Rhodes, Cassandra Burke Robertson & Linda Sandstrom Simard, Ford’s Jurisdictional Crossroads, 109 GEO. L.J. Online 102, 103 (2020).
3. World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 292 (1980).

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