US Supreme Court rules state courts have personal jurisdiction in product liability cases against Ford

Products liability suits against Ford Motors in Montana and Minnesota can go forward in their respective state courts, said the US Supreme Court on Thursday. The court rejected Ford’s argument that personal specific jurisdiction was limited to lawsuits in states where Ford manufactured or originally sold vehicles.

For courts to have specific jurisdiction over a global corporation, the company must intentionally take advantage of “the privileges of conducting activities within the forum State.” This could include advertising and establishing retail locations in a state. Additionally, in lawsuits where specific jurisdiction is at issue, the claims must be related to the company’s business activities in the state.

Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court combines two cases involving accidents resulting in severe injury or death due to a Ford vehicle malfunction. These accidents happened in the states where the consumers lived, but Ford claimed that the state courts did not have personal specific jurisdiction over these cases because the particular vehicles were made elsewhere and because the claims did not have a “strict causal relationship” to Ford’s business activities in the state.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the majority, ruled that specific jurisdiction is present when “a company cultivates a market for a product in the forum State and the product malfunctions there.” The court concluded that Ford had substantially availed themselves of the business opportunities in the forum state because Ford did substantial business in Montana through advertising, “by every means imaginable—among them, billboards, TV and radio spots, print ads, and direct mail,” as well as establishing numerous Ford dealerships across the states.

This ruling will make it easier for consumers to sue companies in a “convenient forum for re- dressing injuries inflicted by out-of-state actors” while allowing state courts to address their own interests in the case. As Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a separate concurrence, “Their resi- dents, while riding in vehicles purchased within their borders, were killed or injured in accidents on their roads. Can anyone seriously argue that requiring Ford to litigate these cases in Minnesota and Montana would be fundamentally unfair?”