The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a challenge by Ford Motor Co. to an $82.6 million verdict awarded to a woman paralyzed in a Ford Explorer rollover accident.
In an order issued Monday, the Supreme Court justices declining to hear the case, leaving the Ford rollover lawsuit award for Benetta Buell-Wilson in place. Ford had requested that the Court hear the appeal from a California state appeals court , arguing that the court should have tossed the $55 million in punitive damages because the company’s Ford Explorer design met federal safety standards.
Buell-Wilson was initially awarded $369 million, including $246 million in punitive damages for injuries suffered in a 2002 accident where her Ford Explorer rolled over due to alleged design defects. However, lower court decisions reduced the award to $82.6 million. The $55 million in punitive damages accessed against Ford has now risen to $87 million due to interest that has accumulated on the unpaid portion of the verdict.
According to the Ford Explorer lawsuit, Buell-Wilson lost control of her 1997 vehicle near San Diego when she swerved to avoid a metal object in the road. Her Explorer 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 complaint 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.
The National Traffic Safety Administration estimates that about 37 percent of fatal automobile accidents are due to SUV rollover accidents. In 2006, the Insurance Information Institute found that SUVs had the highest occupant fatality rate of any vehicle type in rollover accidents, with a fatality rate of 7.77 per 100,000 registered vehicles. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute found that 8,026 occupants of SUVs died in 2006.