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Product Liability: 1993 Ford F-series Pickup Lethal Parking Brake

If you ask a product liability attorney their opinion on parking brake defects, most will admit that parking brake defects are dangerous liabilities. In 1994, 3-year-old Walter White climbed into his father's parked 1993 Ford F-350 pickup. When the parking brake disengaged, the boy fell out and went under the wheels as the F350 Ford Pickup rolled down their driveway. Walter White was crushed to death.

Jimmie and Ginnie White subsequently filed a product liability lawsuit against Ford Motor Company and Orscheln Company, the designer and manufacturer of the car's parking brake. Jimmie White had testified that while he did not lock the truck's vehicle doors, he did set the parking brake and put the manual transmission into first gear. The White's attorneys alleged that Ford knew about the parking brake defect but didn't warn consumers. Expert testimony of a metallurgist supported the fact that the parking brake was prone to spontaneous disengagement because of a design defect and that a spontaneous disengagement occurred in this case.

Ford agreed that Walter likely pulled the gearshift lever out of first gear into Neutral but contended that either Mr. White had not set the parking brake or that Walter had released the parking brake while playing in the truck. Ford insisted that either possibility was far more likely than a spontaneous brake disengagement caused by a design defect.

"These parking brake problems had been plaguing Ford for over a decade," noted John Bisnar, nationally recognized defective product attorney. "The self-adjusting brake used in the Whites' truck was a new design. Not long after its introduction, the complaints began pouring in. These included a "skip-through-on-apply" or "skip-out" problem, which caused the parking brake to occasionally engage unsuccessfully when the brake pedal was depressed. Another problem was the "rollaway," which allowed the truck to move unexpectedly after the parking brake had (purportedly) been successfully applied."

In an effort that was too little, too late, Ford announced a recall of 884,000 1992-94 F-series pickup trucks and Broncos, 1993-94 Ranger pickups, Explorers and Mazda Navajo sport utility vehicles to repair the parking brake mechanisms. In a gruesome twist of fate, the Whites received their recall notice in 1995, after their son Walter was killed.

The White's attorney said that Ford's recall led the public to believe that the reason for the recall was a different, much less significant problem. It implied that if the parking brake failed to engage initially, that it could just be re-applied. That the problem was merely a customer convenience issue, not a safety issue. Ford failed to mention that after the brake had been engaged, it might later disengage spontaneously for no reason.

"This was a widespread problem," observed John Bisnar. "More than 1,100 incidents were reported in which the parking brakes in these trucks have disengaged spontaneously, resulting in 54 injuries and one death. Unfortunately, more than 200,000 trucks that qualified for the recall were never turned in for repairs."

A federal jury awarded $52 million in damages to Jimmie and Ginnie White of Elko, Nevada. Jurors concluded that the truck's self-adjusting parking brake was defectively designed. But instead of blaming the death on that defect, they found that Ford was liable for negligence and for intentionally misrepresenting the safety of the F-series pickup, and for failing to warn consumers of the risk that was known to them. The district court denied Ford's post-trial motions.

"This is yet another example of how car makers try to conceal the real impact of a defect," observed Brian Chase the nationally recognized product liability lawyer. "The Whites, amidst their profound grief, sought to protect other families who might suffer the same devastating loss by confronting Ford and holding them accountable for this defect. Our sincere hope is that this lawsuit and the many lawsuits we have filed against Ford, GM, Chrysler and foreign automakers will convince them to design safer, more dependable braking systems and prevent 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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