Ford Truck Rollover Wrongful Death Lawsuit Results in $1.7 Billion Judgment Against Automaker

The jury levied $1.7 billion in punitive damages in the Ford truck rollover wrongful death lawsuit after determining the company had sold millions of "Super Duty" trucks with weak roofs.

A Georgia jury has returned a $1.7 billion verdict in a wrongful death lawsuit over a Ford truck rollover accident, alleging that the roof was defectively designed by the auto maker to save money.

In April 2014, Melvin and Voncile Hill were killed when they were involved in a rollover accident involving a 2002 Ford F-250. Their children filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the automaker, alleging that Ford knew the roofs would not hold up in a rollover auto accident, but failed to make necessary design changes.

On Friday, a Gwinnett County jury agreed, ordering the company to pay the couple’s children $24 million in compensatory damages, 30% of which must be paid by Pep Boys, who the lawsuit claims put the wrong size tire on the truck. The rest of the award, including an additional $1.7 billion in punitive damages, was levied against Ford Motor Company.

During the trial, the plaintiffs’ lawyers presented evidence of similar problems playing a factor in nearly 80 other Ford rollover accidents during the 17-year period the trucks with those types of roofs were sold, resulting in injuries and deaths. The weak roof manufacturing flaw was allegedly present in 5.2 million “Super Duty” trucks sold between 199 and 2016.

The lawsuit claims the roofs were poorly constructed and provide virtually no protection to vehicle occupants in case of a rollover accident, resulting in crushing and sometimes deadly injuries.

Ford officials have said they intend to appeal the verdict. Given the size of the punitive damages compared to the compensatory damages, it is likely that Ford will at least be able to get that portion of the award reduced significantly on appeal, as the U.S. Supreme Court has previously found that punitive damage awards more than nine times the amount of compensatory damages violate the Due Process clause, except in the most egregious cases.

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Ford has faced similar allegations over the construction of roofs on some of its SUVs as well.

The verdict comes about 10 years after Ford was ordered to pay $82.6 million to a woman paralyzed during a Ford Explorer rollover accident which made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court before the high court rejected Ford’s request for an appeal.

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.


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