Ford Explorer Lawsuit Settled Over Accident That Left Woman Paralyzed

Ford Motor Co. has reached a confidential settlement with a woman who was paralyzed in a 2005 SUV accident while on her way to church. The settlement came after a jury had already found the company liable for more than $16 million in damages as a result of design defects with the Ford Explorer, and was in the process of weighing punitive damages that could have cost the company millions more.

The agreement, reached in December, followed a December 18 verdict by a Clayton County, Georgia jury in favor of Lynn Wheeler, who was severely injured and permanently crippled in a Christmas accident in 2005. Wheeler was riding in the back of a 2002 Ford Explorer sports utility vehicle (SUV) between two child seats, and alleges that the rear seat latch failed when the car was struck by another vehicle.

Wheeler’s Ford Explorer lawsuit claimed that a 1995 Eagle Talon driven by John C. Stanley careened into the vehicle she was in after Stanley lost control. The impact caused the rear seat latch to give way, and Wheeler was slammed forward into the back of front seat and center console as the rear seat collapsed on top of her. The lawsuit alleged that Wheeler suffered severe spinal cord damage and is now on a ventilator and paralyzed from the neck down. Four other passengers in the vehicle were essentially unharmed, and Stanley suffered a broken leg.

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The lawsuit charged Ford with defectively designing the rear seat latch and for ignoring its own safety testing which had shown that the lap belt provided to passengers in the center of the Explorer’s bench seat was unsafe. The lawsuit accused Ford of delaying installation of shoulder restraints for passengers in the middle of the bench seat in order to save money.

The jury had already awarded $17,716,000 to Wheeler and her husband, Douglas, as a result of the accident, with Ford being responsible for $16,444,761 and Stanley responsible for $1,271,640. According to the Fulton County Daily Report, jurors were considering punitive damages against Ford when the company reached a settlement with Wheeler. The details of the settlement are unknown.

In an unrelated Ford Explorer rollover lawsuit filed in California, a jury awarded a paralyzed woman $82.6 million, including $55 million in punitive damages. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge by Ford Motor Co. that sought to have the punitive damages award tossed because the Ford Explorer design met federal safety standards.

In that case, the plaintiff lost control of her 1997 Ford Explorer near San Diego when she swerved to avoid a metal object in the road. Her SUV rolled over multiple times, and the roof collapsed on her neck, severing her spine. Buell-Wilson was paralyzed from the waist down due to her injuries. The product liability lawsuit alleged that Ford knew that its vehicle’s design was defective and was prone to rollovers and that the roof collapsed during rollover accidents. The jury agreed and assigned the punitive damages after finding that Ford’s conduct involved a disregard for the safety of consumers.

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