jury awards unprecedented settlement

Jury orders Ford to pay unprecedented $1.7 billion settlement in rollover truck crash

On August 19, a Georgia jury ordered Ford Motor Company to pay an unprecedented $1.7 billion wrongful death settlement to the two children, Kim and Adam Hill, of a couple killed in a 2014 truck rollover accident. 

Jurors in Gwinnett County, northeast of Atlanta reached the verdict in a civil case involving plaintiffs’ lawyers’ contention that the roofs on Ford pickup trucks are dangerously defective. The fatal crash involved a 2002 Ford F-250. 

James Butler Jr. of Butler Prather LLP, lawyer for the victims Melvin and Voncile Hill said, “An award of punitive damages to hopefully warn people riding around in the millions of those trucks Ford sold was the reason the Hill family insisted on the verdict.”

Butler further stated that he was stunned by the amount of evidence against Ford in the case saying, “I used to buy Ford trucks. I thought nobody would sell a truck with a roof this weak. The damn thing is useless in a wreck. You might as well drive a convertible.”

The plaintiffs’ attorneys submitted evidence of close to 80 similar scenarios involving truck roofs that were crushed in rollover accidents injuring or killing motorists. In addition, data presented showed Ford sold 5.2 million “Super Duty” trucks with dangerously weak roofs that could crush passengers in a rollover accident. The roof design flaw was found in models released from 1999 to 2016.

Plaintiff lawyers also argued that Ford and its engineers “acted willfully and wantonly with a conscious indifference for the safety” of their customers when determining roof strength of their trucks.

Butler’s co-counsel, Gerald Davidson, predicted that “…more deaths and severe injuries are certain because millions of these trucks are on the road.”

Ford plans to appeal the verdict

According to closing arguments made by defense attorney William Withrow Jr., Ford needed to defend itself from accusations “that Ford and its engineers acted willfully and wantonly, with a conscious indifference for the safety of the people who ride in their cars when they made these decisions about roof strength.”

Paul Manke, another defense lawyer said the allegation that Ford was irresponsible and willfully made decisions that put customers at risk is “simply not the case.”

In a statement given to the Associated Press, Ford representatives said the there was a lack of evidence against their old Super Duty models, “While our sympathies go out to the Hill family, we do not believe the verdict is supported by the evidence and plan to appeal.” 

Jury also awards compensatory damages to Hill family

Moments before the final verdict was read, the Georgia jury also awarded the Hill children $24 million in compensatory damages, believing that Ford was 70% at fault for the deaths of their parents. The jury said that Pep Boys, an automotive service which installed tires on the F-250 was responsible for the other 30%, as the tires were the wrong size which caused the truck to crash.

Just last month Ford issued a recall of about 2,900 F-150 Lightning trucks due to a software issue that could result in a failure to warn drivers adequately of low tire pressure. This could lead to poor vehicle handling and a possible loss of control that could increase the risk of a crash.

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