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Auto Product Liability: 1988 Ford Ranger Pickup Unsafe Seat Belt

Most auto product liability lawyers will admit that defective seatbelts are an accident waiting to happen. In 1997, Ricky Johnson, 19, was driving a 1988 Ford Ranger Pickup near his home in Tecumseh, Oklahoma. When he fell asleep at the wheel, the Ranger careened off the road, smashed into an embankment and landed at the bottom of the creek bed. During the car accident, Johnson's seat-belt webbing tore apart at the latch plate and he landed against the passenger-side door. Johnson sustained a broken pelvis, broken left arm, broken bone in his spine, ruptured bladder and a severe head injury with bruising and hemorrhaging in the brain. His brain injury has resulted in permanent physical impairment and a reduction in his mental functioning.

Johnson's parents subsequently brought a product liability lawsuit against Ford, seeking compensatory and punitive damages resulting from Johnson's injuries. Their attorneys alleged that Johnson's injuries were caused by a faulty seat belt that allowed him to slam his head into the vehicle. They further alleged that Ford willfully disregarded public safety in its design and manufacture of the Ranger, and that it was grossly negligent in its testing and warnings to consumers.

Ford denied any responsibility for Johnson's injuries, arguing that there was nothing wrong with the seat-belt system or anything else on Johnson's 1988 model Ranger. They asserted that Ricky fell asleep at the wheel, left the road, and eventually became airborne for more than 70 feet. They further asserted that there was no evidence that Ricky hit his head at any time during the car crash, insisting that his injuries were caused by the violent movement of his vehicle during the car collision, not by any component failure.

An Oklahoma jury disagreed and found in favor of the Johnsons, awarding them $5 million in punitive and compensatory damages. Ford appealed. And the Oklahoma's Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Johnsons. In its ruing, the court found that Ford had distributed and sold a defective, unreasonably dangerous vehicle because the vehicle's seat belt and restraint system failed during Johnson's car accident. The evidence presented at the trial showed that, regardless of why Johnson's vehicle left the road, Johnson would not have suffered any permanent disabling brain injury if the defective seat belt had not failed. Ford was ordered to pay Johnson and his family more than $6.5 million in damages.

"This case was first filed against Ford in August 1998, before the car maker's recent rash of high-profile vehicle quality and safety issues," observed nationally recognized defective auto product lawyer, John Bisnar. "Negative publicity from the case would prove far more costly than the damages to Ford, which had been struggling with falling vehicle sales and declining U.S. market share as it sought to rebound from its $5.45 billion loss in 2001."

"Ricky Johnson was in the prime of his life when he was cut down by this unfortunate and preventable car accident," observed Brian Chase of the nationally recognized Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Lawyers auto defect law firm. "The Johnsons have suffered as no parents should ever have to, yet they demonstrated the courage to confront a huge car maker and hold them accountable for an obvious auto defect. Our sincere hope is that these lawsuits, and the many lawsuits we have filed against Ford, GM, Chrysler and foreign car makers will convince them to design safer, more reliable restraint systems, thereby preventing others from being needlessly injured or killed."

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 Lawyers, LLP 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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Disclaimer: The legal information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice, nor the formation of an attorney-client relationship. Any results set forth here were dependent on the facts of that case and the results will differ from case to case. Bisnar Chase serves all of California. In addition, we represent clients in various other states through our affiliations with local law firms. Through the local firm we will be admitted to practice law in their state, pro hac vice.

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