Join Date: Jun 2001
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Jury punishes Ford in SUV rollover case - 386 million
From the Detroit Free Press:
Jury punishes Ford in SUV rollover case
$368.6 million is awarded in total damages
June 4, 2004
BY MARGARET CRONIN FISK
Ford Motor Co. must pay $246 million in punitive damages to a California woman who was paralyzed when her Explorer sport-utility vehicle rolled over, a jury in San Diego ruled Thursday.
The state court jury awarded accident victim Benetta Buell-Wilson $122.6 million in actual damages Tuesday, for a total award of $368.6 million. The total judgment, the first damages award against Ford in an Explorer rollover case, is the second-largest ever against an automaker, according to Bloomberg data.
Buell-Wilson, 49, was injured in January 2002 when her 1997 Explorer flipped over as she tried to steer around a metal obstruction on a highway. Buell-Wilson's case said the Explorer's design made it prone to roll over during common evasive driving maneuvers. She and her husband alleged the vehicle's roof was too weak to withstand a rollover. Ford said there were no defects.
"We can appreciate the empathy that this jury felt for the plaintiff, but this was an extremely severe crash initiated by the driver and any SUV would have rolled over under similar circumstances," Ford spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes said. "The evidence shows the Explorer is a safe vehicle," she said. Ford will appeal, she said.
Verdicts are often reduced on appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that punitive damages should not exceed actual damages by ratios of 10 to 1 or more unless unusually bad conduct is involved. In the case of large actual damages, punitive awards should be roughly equal to actual damages, the court said in a 2003 ruling.
The reputation of the Explorer, the best-selling SUV, was hurt by a U.S. investigation into at least 271 highway deaths involving tread separation by Bridgestone Corp.'s Firestone tires, mostly on Explorers. Ford settled hundreds of lawsuits over rollovers related to tire failures.
Ford has been sued several hundred times over Explorer rollovers in cases that don't involve tire failures. Ford has settled many of these cases and, until Buell-Wilson's lawsuit, won the rest at trial.
In 11 of these rollover trials, the accident victims claimed the Explorer was inherently unstable. The other two involved roof crush claims, Vokes said. The jury in the Buell-Wilson case found against Ford on both defect allegations, she said.
The Explorer is the top-selling sport-utility vehicle. Ford sold 373,118 Explorers in 2003, down from 433,847 in 2002.
Shares of Ford fell 14 cents to $14.75 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The verdict is also the sixth-largest jury award of any kind in 2004.