Jury deliberating case against Ford

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By Marilyn Tennissen -The News staff writer

BEAUMONT - A family outing on a hot summer day two years ago ended in tragedy for a Port Neches family when 3-year-old Cade Wright was killed in the parking lot of a crowded sno-cone stand.

The family is now in the midst of a lawsuit against Ford Motor Company, claiming that the toddler's death could have been prevented if the 2001 Ford Expedition that backed over him had been equipped with ultrasonic rear sensors.

Attorneys for the Wright family and Ford presented closing arguments Wednesday in Federal Judge Marcia Crone's courtroom.

On June 30, 2003, Lisa and Brian Wright were visiting a crowded snow cone stand in Groves with their son, Cade. The boy was struck and killed by another patron's Ford sport utility vehicle as it backed up in the parking lot.

Plaintiffs argue that Ford should make an optional backup sensor a mandatory safety device in all its SUVs.

They say that Ford made a conscious decision not to include a simple safety device that would cost $132.

"Ford made safety an option and that decision was the cause of Cade's death," Brett Thomas, attorney for the plaintiffs, said.

The automaker said the rear backup sensor is an optional convenience device, marketed as a parking aid.

It is not a required safety device because it is has limitations, particularly for detecting small, moving objects.

"Just because there was a terrible accident doesn't mean the vehicle was unreasonably dangerous," Ron Wamstad, attorney for Ford, said. "There was nothing wrong with the vehicle. The fact that it did not have the ultrasonic device did not make it unsafe."

Wamstad said the parking lot around the snow cone stand was described as a "madhouse" on the afternoon of the accident and that the Wrights left the 3-year-old unattended.

"It was parental error that caused this accident," Wamstad said. "Ford believes in safety, so if Ford knew it was a safety device that could be installed for only $132, then why not install it on all vehicles. It is not done because the system has too many limitations."

The Ford attorneys showed reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2000 that said the rear sensors do not reliably detect pedestrians and children and that the Ford owners manual for the vehicles that have the sensor as an option caution drivers that it cannot detect small moving objects.

The family members of the victim were crying as attorneys concluded and several jurors were seen wiping away tears as they left the courtroom to begin deliberations Wednesday afternoon.

Deliberations continue at 9 a.m. Thursday.