By on November 3, 2011

Back in 2005, Ford was ordered to pay some $43m to the Jablonski family whose Lincoln Town Car had caught fire after being rear-ended. According to the Associated Press:

As a result of the crash, according to the ruling, a large pipe wrench in the Jablonski car’s [trunk] 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.

That ruling, with its echoes of the Pinto fiasco, could have validated a long-cherished belief of the personal injury attorney profession: that gas tanks rear of the rear axle are fundamentally dangerous (see above). Of course that’s not the case, and the Town Car in question was given a five-star safety rating by NHTSA. Accordingly, the Illinois Supreme Court threw out the ruling, finding 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


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23 Comments on “Illinois Supreme Court: Come On Baby, Don’t Fear The Panther...”

  • avatar

    A personal injury attorney could argue that a smaller capacity fuel tank would result in a less severe explosion/blaze by limiting the amount of available flammable material.

    Therefore, mandating a strict 8 gallon tank size is in the public interest. Might also help folks drive more economically. Check Ray LaHood’s schedule to see if this is on his agenda.

  • avatar

    And that’s why my Honda Fit has a tiny little gas tank underneath the front seats.

    Panther fail. Again. :)

  • avatar

    It is an amazing achievement of mankind that every one of us can drive thousands of miles a year while sitting within maybe 3-6 feet of a large can containing from 10 to 30 (or more) gallons of one of the most volatile and combustable substances on earth, and that when there is an accident such as this, it is genuine news.

    It is no joke when someone is trapped in a burning car. But considering how seldom this happens in relation to how much we drive, and I take my hat off to the engineers who have done a pretty good job at taming one of modern life’s great dangers.

  • avatar

    Why didn’t the family sue the manufacturer of the big pipe wrench?

    Sorry for their loss but I side with the overturnment.

  • avatar

    I’ll have too side with Ford on this one; didn’t the family realize that unsecured items like a large pipe wrench could be thrown with great force in case of an accident?

  • avatar

    The sensational qualities of such cases are too much to resist. The Crown Vic has been attacked for similar results in police cruisers being rear-ended at 70 mph.

    The only thing Pinto-esque about such cases is the fiery results; I haven’t heard of Ford being accused of making a cost-benefit analysis related to the Panther design… or have I missed that one?

    Here’s a mis-titled semi-relevant video:

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Still can’t beat them as an interstate cruiser and I look forward to owning one, one day.

    • 0 avatar

      Objectively, how can you not beat a Panther as an interstate cruiser? Have you driven one?

    • 0 avatar

      I can think of any number of things that beat them in Interstate cruising. Between the Dramamine-requiring “ride” and the sheer amount of steering correction necessary to keep them in one lane…

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Love that none of our normal Panther likers are coming to my rescue here. I have driven pre 2003 and post 2003 cars and the switch in suspension settings and steering setup made a huge difference. As far as comfort goes there were enough power adjustments to make it comfortable.

      • 0 avatar

        Are there cars that offer a better ride than a panther on the interstate? Sure, but none can match the comfort, space, and ride for close to the same price as a well kept used Town Car or Grand Marquis.

        Assuming the suspension is in good shape, the tires are sound, and the wheels are aligned there should be little if any need for steering corrections during highway cruising. Panthers are perfect for eating up hundreds of miles of long, straight, wide, flat roads.

        One of my coworkers is enamored with the Cadillac DTS and keeps buying cheap trade ins before dumping them when the inevitable head gasket or electrical system failure arises. I’ve never seem the allure of those cars – the seats aren’t anywhere near as comfortable as those of the Town Car, and if you’re going to do the big American land-yacht thing you might as well go RWD.

        GM B-bodies might be able to give a panther a run for the money, but they’re a lot harder to find in good shape with acceptable miles.

      • 0 avatar

        Hertz saddles me with GMs as “upgrades” about 3-4 times a year. And as a President’s Circle renter I do NOT get beat rental cars, the last one was brand new with <500 miles on it. I know of what I speak. I can only assume that anyone who enjoys these arks on the road has never driven anything that is actually good to drive. Jack Baruth is an aberation in so many ways that I can't even find my way there. :-)

        As to space, you have got to be joking! The front seats do not go back far enough for my little short legs, and the rear seat room is utterly pathetic for something so enormous on the outside.

        They are sort of fun in a juvenile way – anything with so little grip is bound to be entertaining to slide around, especially in the rain. And the fact that to the average Joe they look like cop cars is a great tool for clearing the fast lane.

      • 0 avatar

        krhodes –

        I’ve always found the space up front to be excellent, though the rear seat room is a bit lacking in the shorter wheelbase vehicles (the Impala has the same problem).

        Different strokes for different folks I guess. If I were going to drive 500 miles I’d rather have a Town Car than an Impala, Lucerne, or DTS. Of course, I’d rather have an Expedition EL or F-150 than any of them.

        Still, you can buy a 2003+ Town Car with around 100,000 miles (that will easily go another 200,000 with routine maintenance) and a clean interior for under $5,000 if you shop well. The value proposition is where the panthers really shine.

  • avatar

    The fuel tank has been in that same location since the late 60s-early 70s in the full-sized FoMoCo cars. I know that’s where it was on my 1971 LTD. FAR safer location than the under-truck tanks of the GM cars of that era!

    Did they sue the manufacturer of the pipe wrench as well?

  • avatar

    My Grand Cherokee has been criticized for a similar design flaw, yet I still put my family in the vehicle daily.

    There are thousands upon thousands of Panthers and Grand Cherokees on the road, yet I don’t hear about them exploding all that often.

    I suspect the risk is overstated.

  • avatar

    When I saw the image and read the headline, I assumed it was going to be about how Illinois is pushing to keep using Crown Vics in their police fleet. I was prepared to go on a rant about how the IL government is only doing this because they are broke and they are so bad at coming up with a sound budget that its actually hilarious. Then I read the article and realized that I got excited over nothing.

    Oh well.

  • avatar

    They should sue the oil company for making gasoline so flammable and not incorporating a fire retardant into the fuel. After all, oil companies are so rich.

  • avatar

    All those Crown Vic and Pinto stories prove I’m super smart to drive a Model A, which has the gas tank in the perfect location–in my lap. I can look at the gas gauge and see the fuel sloshing.

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