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Motor Vehicle Defects: 1996 Ford Crown Victoria's Roof Proves Not Crashworthy

Most motor vehicle defect attorneys will agree that a car's roof strength is import to the safety of its passengers. U.S. Army Major Barry Muth was sitting in the front passenger seat of a 1996 Ford Crown Victoria when the car's driver, a fellow Army officer on duty in Saudi Arabia, lost control and ran into a concrete barrier separating the two sides of the road. The car, which was traveling about 10 mph above the 48 mph speed limit, slid along the barrier and ultimately flipped onto its roof, which collapsed 12 to 15 inches.

Muth, now 46, was left a paraplegic by the 1999 car accident. The driver testified that he injured his shoulder, requiring surgery, and that he suffered from neck pain and headaches after the car crash.

Product liability attorney's for Muth filed a crashworthiness lawsuit against Ford Motor Company. They alleged that a design defect in the Crown Victoria's roof caused it to crush into the interior upon impact, and strike Muth's head with considerable force. Muth also alleged that the passenger restraint system had been defectively designed. But most of the trial focused on whether Ford should have designed the roof structure to provide better crush protection.

"If a roof crushes substantially during a car crash, due to a failure of the side rails, headers or support pillars, catastrophic injuries can occur," said nationally recognized product defect lawyer, Brian Chase. "Reducing an occupant's survival space often results in the occupant's head impacting some portion of the car causing paralysis, brain damage and sometimes death. There is simply no excuse for designing a roof so not crashworthy that it collapses so easily."

Ford denied liability and countered that while a stronger roof would have been feasible, it would have done little if anything to prevent personal injuries in rollover accidents such as Muth's. Ford further claimed that a replacement windshield compromised the Crown Victoria roof's strength.

Auto product liability attorneys for Muth produced expert witnesses who claimed that by spending less than $30 per vehicle, Ford could have significantly strengthened the car's roof structure, decreasing its tendency to deform during impacts, and reducing the risk of serious passenger injury. Expert witnesses further testified that Ford had resisted attempts made as early as the 1970s by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that urged the carmaker to strengthen the Crown Victoria's roof.

"Spending an extra $30 per vehicle to make a roof more crashworthy could have saved Barry Muth and his family an incredible amount of heartache," noted nationally recognized auto defect lawyer, John Bisnar. "This is simply another example of Ford's cost-benefit ratio in car design that has resulted in so many preventable tragedies."

A federal appeals court upheld a $8.7 million verdict in favor of the plaintiffs against Ford Motor Company. The appeals court upheld the jury's decision that Ford's argument regarding the windshield's role in the car's structural integrity was "scant at best" and basically immaterial. "The windshield's contribution, if any, to the roof strength was not part of Muth's theory of design defect," the court said.

Muth and his family were awarded the full $8.7 million, including damages for physical pain, future medical expenses, lost retirement benefits, impairment and disfigurement.

While defective product lawsuits like the Muth's and the lawsuits we have filed against Ford will not bring loved ones back or restore them to health, they serve to alert the general public about the dangers of these cars. We also hope that the lawsuit costs help pursued car makers to stop manufacturing cars with weak roofs or at least redesign them to be more crashworthy.

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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