Verdict Will Stand
The Ford Motor Company was handed a defeat before the U.S. Supreme Court Monday when it denied a last-ditch effort by Ford to overturn a $82.6 million product-liability judgment in a Ford Explorer rollover accident.
In January 2002, Benetta Buell-Wilson, 46, was driving on I-8 east of San Diego when she had to swerve her 1997 Ford Explorer to avoid hitting some metal in the road. The Explorer rolled more than four times and Buell-Wilson was left hanging upside down from her seat belt with the roof crushing into her spine.
Buell-Wilson and her husband had argued that the Explorer was prone to rollovers and its roof was defective.
Today, the mother of two is paralyzed from the waist down, reports the Washington Post.
In 2004, a San Diego jury awarded her $369 million, one of the largest awards to date against a manufacturer, reports the Los Angeles Times. Two-thirds of the award, or $246 million, was to punish Ford for its “conscious disregard” for the safety of its customers.
It turns out that reinforcing the roof strength would have cost an extra $20 per vehicle.
An appellate court reduced the award to $83 million, with punitive set at $55 million. A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling says punitive damages should not greatly exceed compensation.
But Ford wanted it reduced further, taking the punitive portion before the high court to have it overturned or reduced. Lawyers argued that the design of the Ford Explorer met all safety standards set by the government and industry and the punitive damages were unfair and unconstitutional.
Ford was joined by its friends at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the appeal arguing that jurors can impose punishment on corporations.
The $55 million in punitive damages was the only issue before the Supreme Court. Buell-Wilson is a paraplegic and in constant pain which will increase over her lifetime, the appeals court ruled in her case in 2006.
According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, rollover crashes account for 33 percent of all traffic fatalities.
More than 10,000 people are killed a year in rollover accidents. The new Ford Explorer ad for 2010 emphasizes stability control as a major feature.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has just picked its top vehicles for 2010 and has added rollover and roof strength crash worthiness to its criteria. #