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Auto Product Liability: 1991 Ford Explorer Faulty Seat Back

Most auto product liability lawyers will admit that a faulty seat back is a dangerous auto defect. In 1993, Lydia Carillo was stopped at a red light in Hammond, Indiana. She was driving a 1991 Ford Explorer. Her son, Anthony, was in the passenger seat. When her Explorer was rear-ended at about 60 mph by another car, the force of the impact caused Lydia's seatback to flatten. She was thrust into her SUV's rear seat, fractured two back vertebrae, and was paralyzed from the chest down. Anthony was found on the front floorboard. Lydia and Anthony's seat belts were still buckled.

Lydia and her husband, Angelo, filed a lawsuit against Ford. Her defective auto product attorneys alleged that the design of the Explorer's seat was unreasonably dangerous, that it lacked the strength to withstand the force of the car collision, causing the seatback to collapse at impact, in turn causing Lydia's injuries.

The three-week trial included testimony from several lay and expert witnesses. Plaintiffs' experts insisted the seatback design was unreasonably dangerous in rear-impact car collisions in which a high rate of force acts on the seat during impact. An accident reconstruction specialist testified that it took between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds of compressive force to break Lydia's vertebrae during the car accident. When her seatback reclined, Lydia was pushed or "ramped" up the seatback. Lydia's shoulder was driven into the rear seat, resulting in her injuries.

"This "ramping" of occupants can be minimized or prevented if seats are designed properly," noted nationally recognized auto defects attorney, John Bisnar. "Changing a seat's contour or inclination, or even its material construction could prevent this type of movement in rear-impact car collisions. The point is, Lydia's seat failed to perform as expected--which was to prevent her from sustaining an injury in this reasonably foreseeable car crash."

A Ford expert testified the seatback strength for that model Explorer was tested to ensure it complied with government standards. Ford's policy included testing it at a force 30 percent above what the government required. The expert said that the Explorer's yielding seat design was meant to absorb some of the force from an impact, and that a rigid seat would transfer all of the energy of an impact to the occupant.

A Ford technical specialist said that the 1991 Ford Explorer's seat had been tested up to a 400-pound load, which exceeded Federal standards for performance. He further testified that it was possible to design a seat in 1991 that would deform less than the Explorer seat did in a rear-impact collision. He agreed that a seatback was part of the restraint system in a rear collision.

The car accident reconstruction of the collision revealed that about 20g's of force was exerted on the Explorer in the car collision that injured Lydia. Based on tests carried out on a seat similar to the one that was in Lydia's Explorer, her seat could carry only about 7g's of load force before it collapsed rearward. Though Lydia was in a "normal seated position" before the impact, Lydia was exposed to injury once her seat had collapsed. Experts testified that the Explorer's seat was unsafe because it lacked sufficient strength and height, leaving Lydia "vulnerable in a very low-load situation to a foreseeable car crash event. Testimony also suggested that the Federal standard for seat loads lacked a sufficient level of safety.

"There were seat designs at the time Lydia's Explorer was being produced that would have protected her," remarked John Bisnar. "These included seats used by BMW, Mercedes and Chrysler Sebring."

The jury sided with the plaintiffs, saying said the Explorer's seat design was unreasonably dangerous. It awarded Lydia $14 million, and found Ford 30 percent liable and the driver who rear-ended her 70 percent liable.

"Lydia Carillo's life was essentially destroyed by this preventable car crash," observed Brian Chase of the nationally recognized Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys defective auto products law firm. "In spite of their suffering, the Carillos demonstrated the courage to confront Ford 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 seats, 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 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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