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Jacksonville Jury Awards $17 Million in Reclining Seat Case

Nov 18, 2005 |

You've seen people do it, or you have done it yourself. Settled into the passenger seat for a long road trip to get comfortable, reclining the seat as far back as it can go.

Tami Martin did it and it changed her life forever.

"I thought I'd be married. I thought I'd have children, but everything changed just like that," Martin said.

Tami Martin has spent the last six years in a wheelchair. Her spine damaged in a car wreck.

Then 28 years old, Tami was riding in her mother's van, relaxed and reclined in the passenger seat, when their Ford Windstar struck a vehicle stopped in front of them. After that, Tami's independent go-getter life was gone.

"I didn't read the owner's manual. I was only worried about whether the radio was set. That's what's important to people, that's what they check out," Martin said.

A Jacksonville jury awarded Martin $17 million in damages, saying Ford knew of the dangers of riding in a reclined position when lap and shoulder belts can't function, but didn't properly warn people.

Ford is fighting the verdict.

Martin said she has offered to give half of the money back, if the automaker will put warning stickers on sun visors next to the warnings about airbag dangers. She said if she can get that done, being in her current condition will take on new meaning.

"I knew from the beginning, I'm a strong Christian and I knew God would use me to reach other people," Martin said.

However, with Ford keeping the case in court, it could take years for Martin to get any money.

A Ford spokesperson commented on the case saying, "this was a tragic accident caused when the driver fell asleep at the wheel and drove into a parked ambulance. The air bag deployed as it should have, but the passenger was reclined in her seat with her feet resting on the dashboard."

"We believe the jury's finding that Ford did not adequately warn against riding in this position is simply incorrect. We expect this verdict will be reversed on appeal," said Ford spokesman.

Martin said she will not give up though, she plans on taking her safety crusade all the way to Congress. She hopes to one day get the message out standing on her own two feet.

"I'm determined not to sit in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I just want to help myself and other people."

Safety experts involved in the case explained reclining the seat is safe as long as the shoulder portion of the safety belt is still in contact with the person's body, any farther back and the person is at risk.

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