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Product Liability: 1987 Ford F-150 Post-Collision Fire Danger

Most product liability lawyers will admit that an auto defect is dangerous to the vehicle occupants and other drivers on the road. In 1995, 24-year-old landscape foreman John Wasilik was driving his 1987 Ford F-150 truck on Route 97 in Maryland. When another truck crossed the centerline and collided with Wasilik, the F-150 burst into flames. Wasilik was trapped inside and conscious for several minutes as bystanders tried to free him. He subsequently suffered third-degree burns over 65 percent of his body and lost his right arm and right leg. His medical bills totaled $1.4 million, and he expects his future medical expenses to be in the millions of dollars.

Wasilik filed a lawsuit against Ford, his auto product liability attorney alleging that design problems -- specifically the lack of an anti-siphoning device--in the1987 F-150 pickup allowed gasoline to pour out of the tank after the car collision and fuel the fire. His attorney further alleged that the F-150's seat belt was defective because it would not open after the impact, thus trapping Wasilik in a burning vehicle.

"In a post-crash vehicle fire, a critically important defect is gas tank siphoning," explained nationally recognized defective auto product attorney, John Bisnar. "The siphoned fuel can be ignited by sparks from the vehicle's electrical components, metal scraping metal, or metal scraping roadway. Most vehicles manufactured after the early 1980s have three fuel lines: supply, return, and vapor lines. Siphoning occurs most often in the return line or supply line. It can be prevented in many cases by a variety of simple, inexpensive safety valves that were available years before the 1987 F-150 truck was manufactured. Ford documents from as early as the 1970s discuss the various check or shutoff valves that would remedy this potential hazard."

Ford's experts testified that the F-150's fire was fed by brake fluid, not gasoline, and that a check valve would not have prevented Wasilik's injuries. Wasilik's experts countered, claiming the fire was fed by 12 to 16 gallons of gasoline.

"This is another example where an inexpensive part could have saved both plaintiff and defendant a lot of suffering and expense," said John Bisnar. "In this case, a $1 part that was installed in other vehicles might have prevented gasoline from spilling out, horribly burning and permanently maiming a young man. It also could have saved Ford millions of dollars."

After a four-week trial, Wasilik was awarded over $26 million in damages by a Baltimore jury. This included $15 million in non-economic damages, which was reduced by the Court to $500,000, the maximum apparently allowed under Maryland law. The award was one of the largest in Maryland's history. Wasilik plans to use the money to continue therapy and obtain artificial limbs.

Ford insisted that the product defect allegations lacked merit and that the jury was swayed by overwhelming sympathy for Wasilik and the injuries he sustained.

"In choosing to leave out a $1 part that other vehicles had wisely incorporated, Ford jeopardized the safety of its customers," observed Brian Chase of the nationally recognized defective auto product law firm of Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys. "Mr. Wasilik's action in taking Ford to court clearly shows how our justice system works to compensate those who have been needlessly injured. The jury's award is America's message to Ford that their failure to act was not acceptable. Hopefully, this lawsuit will help convince Ford to respond effectively to known safety defects to prevent further serious injuries."

If you or a loved one has suffered serious injuries as the result of a defective auto part or vehicle, contact the experienced California auto products liability attorneys at Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys for a free consultation. We will use our extensive knowledge and resources to achieve the best possible results for you and your family.

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