Auto's shoulder harness blamed for fatal injuries


An Abingdon man whose wife died from injuries suffered when the couple's Ford Escort was struck head-on by a motorcycle in 1992 is suing Ford Motor Co. for $12 million, alleging the car's restraint belts and automatic shoulder harness were defective.

Lawyers for Fred N. Berta of the 300 block of Tall Pines Court in Abingdon filed the civil lawsuit Oct. 6 in Harford County Circuit Court. Mr. Berta is the personal representative for the estate of his wife, Marjorie V. Berta.

A spokesman for the automaker denied the allegation.

According to the police report, Mr. Berta, now 75, was driving the couple's 1992 Escort on Oct. 8, 1992, and his 69-year-old wife was riding in the front passenger seat.

Mr. Berta was traveling west on Pleasantville Road near Montford Drive in Forest Hill at 2:20 p.m. when a 1991 Honda motorcycle, traveling east on Pleasantville Road, crossed the center line and slammed into the Bertas' Escort, the suit claims.

Mr. Berta alleges in the lawsuit that the motorcycle was speeding at about 70 mph.

The police report lists the motorcycle's speed as a contributing factor in the accident but does not specify how fast it was going.

Mr. Berta's wife, according to the lawsuit, died from her injuries nine days after the accident. She was wearing the Escort's automatic shoulder harness.

The lawsuit does not say whether Mrs. Berta had a lap belt fastened and the police report does not refer to the lap belt.

Berta contends that the Escort's harness restraint was defective, allowing his wife to be hurled forward into the -- and windshield. He said she came to rest under the car's -- with the shoulder harness around her neck.

In count one of the lawsuit, Mr. Berta alleges that Ford was negligent in designing and manufacturing the car's restraint belts and did not properly warn consumers that the restraints were of inferior design and quality.

Mr. Berta contends the restraint belts should have been adjustable for passengers of all heights and sizes.

In counts two and three, Mr. Berta contends that Ford breached its implied warranty of fitness and warranty of merchantability because it did not sufficiently test the restraint belt equipment and provide suitable warnings about proper use of the equipment.

Counts four, five and six mirror the first three, but apply to Mr. Berta. In each of the six counts, the lawsuit asks $2 million in damages.

Jon Harmon, Ford's corporate news manager, called the incident tragic.

Mr. Harmon said there are two ways to view the accident. The driver of the Escort was barely injured, attesting to the safety of the vehicle.

"Obviously, that is not how the plaintiff chooses to see it, but seeks to place the blame where the resources are," he said.

To ask Ford's customers and stockholders to pay for damages of this magnitude, when the accident was not caused by the vehicle, is distressing, Mr. Harmon said.

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