It’s been a decade since the lead juror in a rollover case against Ford Motor Co. sent a note to a judge that prompted Ford to settle the case for $3 million.
Since then, the case, Ford Motor Company v. Ezequiel Castillo, has bounced through the Texas court system like a ping-pong ball. The latest lob came on Friday, when the Supreme Court of Texas sent the case back to the 13th Court of Appeals.
The state’s Supreme Court justices ruled that the appeals court should determine whether a trial jury that deemed the $3 million settlement was invalid because of fraud had enough evidence to do so.
One piece of evidence was the note, submitted by Cindy Cortez, the jury forewoman in the Brownsville case. “What is the maximum amount that can be awarded?” the note read, followed by a scribbled smiley face.
Cortez had asked to be the forewoman, and then missed a day of the trial because of a sick child, she said at the time.
Believing that the jurors favored Castillo, whose relatives were injured in the 2002 rollover crash, Ford agreed to the settlement.
But another picture of what was happening behind the closed doors of the jury room emerged after the agreement, when Ford’s lawyers spoke to everyone on the jury but Cortez.
The jurors told Ford’s lawyers that they were close to reaching a verdict in favor of Ford when the note was sent, and that Cortez submitted her question without their consent.
Ford then refused to pay the settlement, and the legal battle grew even longer. While preparing for one trial, a judge banned Ford’s lawyers from taking the jurors’ depositions. Eventually, the Supreme Court was asked to weigh in, and ordered that the depositions were admissible in the trial.
Then, at the end of another trial, a jury ruled that the settlement was “invalid because of fraudulent inducement and mutual mistake.” That decision was appealed, reversed and appealed again, and the case returned the Supreme Court for the second time.
In June, the high court ruled that the settlement was invalid, and Castillo’s lawyers asked the court to reconsider.
Friday’s opinion states that the note implied that the jury was discussing awarding as much money as it was allowed to give to the SUV rollover victims. It also implied, the court said, that it was sent on behalf of the entire jury, not just from Cortez.
A lawyer representing Castillo, whose relatives were injured in the rollover, could not be reached for comment Friday. Ford spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger said the motor company “is studying the decision and considering next steps.”