By JIM SUHR
ST. LOUIS (AP) - The Illinois Supreme Court has thrown out an Illlinois jury's $43 million award against Ford Motor Co. in a product-liability lawsuit linked to a fiery 2003 crash that killed a Missouri man and disfigured his wife.
The high court, in a Sept. 22 ruling made public Wednesday, among other things found that the lawsuit on Dora and John Jablonski's behalf did not give sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude Ford negligently "breached its duty of reasonable care" in designing the Lincoln Town Car involved in the wreck.
Justices also found that Illinois law does not require a company to warn of defects undetected before the product left the manufacturer.
Pinning the tragic wreck on the distracted motorist who hit the Jablonskis from behind at 60 mph, Ford said in an emailed statement Thursday it was "gratified" by the Illinois Supreme Court's ruling that "recognized and corrected the substantial efforts and deficiencies in the earlier proceedings."
The automaker said the 1993 Town Car exceeded all federal crash safety standards and received a five-star safety rating - the highest possible - from the U.S. government.
"It was unfair to blame Ford for (the Jablonskis') injuries," Ford said.
A jury in southwestern Illinois' Madison County sided with the Jablonski family of Florissant, Mo., in 2005, faulting Ford in the design of the Jablonski's 1993 Lincoln Town Car that burst into flames in July 2003 when it was struck from behind while stopped in a freeway's construction zone near Granite City, Ill.
As a result of the crash, according to the ruling, a large pipe wrench in the Jablonski car's truck was propelled into the vehicle's gas tank, causing the blaze.
Attorneys for the family argued during the 11-day trial that the fuel tank's positioning behind axle was among things flawed in the car's construction, and that Ford should have warned car owners or retrofitted the vehicles with safety devices.
Ford countered that no similar accidents had occurred involving the same Town Car model as the one driven by John Jablonski, that the vehicle's fuel tank was in "the optimum location for that car," and that the crash should be blamed on the motorist who rear-ended the Jablonskis.
Jurors ordered Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford to pay more than $5 million to the estate of 74-year-old John Jablonski's estate, $23.1 million to his wife, and $15 million in punitive damages. The family reached an out-of-court settlement with the other driver.
Southern Illinois' 5th District Appellate Court unanimously upheld the verdict last year.
A message left Thursday with the Joblonskis' attorney, Brad Lakin of Wood River, Ill., was not immediately returned.