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1998 Ford Ranger Tire Defect Causes Rollover, Leads To Catastrophic Injury and Wrongful Death

SUPERIOR COURT OF CALIFORNIA
COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES

DARLA WEAVER individually and as successor in interest to the Estate of CHRISTOPHER WILSON, Deceased,
Plaintiffs,
vs.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, a Delaware corporation; AMERICAN PACIFIC INDUSTRIES, INC., a California corporation; STOCKTON HILL TIRE, also doing business as VEST INVESTMENT CORP., an Arizona corporation; CHRISTOPHER WILSON, SR. and DOES 1 through 25, inclusive, Defendants.

CASE NO. PC047649
Judge:
Dept.
[UNLIMITED CIVIL]

COMPLAINT FOR DAMAGES FOR WRONGFUL DEATH, SURVIVAL ACTION; DEMAND FOR JURY TRIAL

  1. Strict Product Liability: Defect Tire
  2. Negligence: Defective Tire
  3. Breach of Express and Implied Warranties
  4. Strict Product Liability: Defect Vehicle
  5. Negligence: Defective Vehicle
  6. Breach of Implied Warranty re: Defective Vehicle

Complaint filed:
Trial date: None

Comes now Plaintiff, DARLA WEAVER individually and as successor in interest to the Estate of CHRISTOPHER WILSON, Deceased and for causes of action against Defendants, FORD MOTOR COMPANY, a Delaware corporation; AMERICAN PACIFIC INDUSTRIES, INC., a California corporation; STOCKTON HILL TIRE, also doing business as VEST INVESTMENT CORP., an Arizona corporation; CHRISTOPHER WILSON, SR. and DOES 1 through 25, inclusive, and each of them, alleges as follows.

GENERAL ALLEGATIONS

  1. At all times herein mentioned in this complaint, Plaintiff DARLA WEAVER individually and as successor in interest to the Estate of CHRISTOPHER WILSON, Deceased was and is an individual and resident of the city of Kingman, state of Arizona.
  2. At all times herein mentioned, Plaintiff, DARLA WEAVER, was and is the natural mother of CHRISTOPHER WILSON, and his sole surviving heir. At all times herein mentioned, plaintiff is the successor in interest to the Estate of CHRISTOPHER WILSON, deceased, and brings this action on behalf of the Estate of CHRISTOPHER WILSON deceased, as a survival action, pursuant to C.C.P. § 377.32. Prior to his death, CHRISTOPHER WILSON lingered in a severely impaired and damaged state of health for approximately 14 months before succumbing to the effects of his injuries. Plaintiff, DARLA WEAVER, also brings this action as a wrongful death action, pursuant to C.C.P. §377.60.
  3. At all times mentioned herein this Complaint, Defendant, FORD MOTOR COMPANY was and is a Corporation organized and existing pursuant to the laws of the State of Delaware, with a principal place of business in Dearborn, Michigan, and was at all times herein mentioned authorized and/or qualified to do business, and was and is doing business, in the State of California and was the manufacturer and/or seller of the SUBJECT VEHICLE described below.
  4. At all times mentioned herein this Complaint, Defendant, AMERICAN PACIFIC INDUSTRIES, INC. was and is a California corporation, organized and existing pursuant to the laws of the State of California and, on information and belief, was the manufacturer and/or seller of the SUBJECT TIRE described below.
  5. At all times mentioned herein this Complaint, Defendant STOCKTON HILL TIRE, also doing business as VEST INVESTMENT CORP. was and is an Arizona corporation, organized and existing pursuant to the laws of the State of Arizona and, on information and belief, was the seller of the SUBJECT TIRE described below.
  6. At all times herein mentioned in this complaint, Defendant CHRISTOPHER WILSON, SR. was and is an individual and resident of the city of Kingman, state of Arizona.
  7. Plaintiff, on information and belief, alleges that each defendant designated herein as DOES 1 through 25, inclusive, is directly and/or vicariously liable for the events and happenings which proximately caused the injuries and damages to plaintiff alleged herein, either through said defendant's own conduct (or failure to act) or through the conduct (or failure to act) of its agents, servants, employees, contractors, or representatives in some other manner. The true identities and capacities of said defendants are presently unknown and will be alleged by amendment when ascertained.
  8. Plaintiff, on information and belief, alleges that at all pertinent times each defendant was the agent, servant, employee, representative and/or joint venturer, or other status which gives rise to vicarious liability, in relation to one or more co-defendants who at all times acted within the course, scope and authority of said relationship.
  9. On September 9, 2008, at or about 9:10 p.m., decedent, Christopher Wilson was a passenger in a 1998 Ford Ranger pickup being driven at the legal speed on westbound Arizona State Route 68 in Mojave County, Arizona in clear weather and with dry road conditions. Mr. Wilson was a passenger in a 1998 Ford Ranger with Arizona plate number ABA5269 (VIN 1FTYR14UOWPA80492) (the "SUBJECT VEHICLE"), which was equipped with AMERICAN PACIFIC INDUSTRIES, INC. "P235/75R15 SPECTOR A/T" tires (the "SUBJECT TIRE") on one or more of its wheels. As the SUBJECT VEHICLE was traveling the SUBJECT TIRE experienced a blow out which in turn caused the SUBJECT VEHICLE to lose control and roll over one or more times before coming to rest. Mr. Wilson was ejected from the SUBJECT VEHICLE at some point in this sequence, and suffered serious and traumatic brain injuries sustained in the rollover and ejection sequence which ultimately caused Mr. Wilson's death on November 8, 2009 due to hypostatic bronchopneumonia and persistent vegetative state from traumatic brain injury suffered in the SUBJECT ACCIDENT.
  10. As a proximate result of the death of Mr. Wilson, the plaintiff has sustained damages in amounts to be determined at trial, including catastrophic injury medical care costs for her deceased son and loss of the love, companionship, society and future support from her son.
  11. FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION

    (Strict Product Liability: Defective Tire)

  12. Plaintiff refers to each of the allegations in paragraphs 1-10 above, which are incorporated by reference herein.
  13. Defendants AMERICAN PACIFIC INDUSTRIES, INC. and STOCKTON HILL TIRE, also doing business as VEST INVESTMENT CORP., each knew that the SUBJECT TIRE was to be purchased and used without inspection for defects by consumers including decedent.
  14. The SUBJECT TIRE and each of its component parts was manufactured, designed, assembled, packaged, tested, fabricated, analyzed, inspected, merchandised, marketed, distributed, labeled, advertised, promoted, sold, supplied, leased, rented, repaired, adjusted, selected and used with inherent vices and defects in design and/or manufacturing and/or by failure to warn of the defect or potential thereof, which made it dangerous, hazardous and unsafe for its intended use or for reasonably foreseeable misuses.
  15. The existence of one or more defects in the SUBJECT TIRE caused it to experience a blow out under normal usage by decedent's driver.
  16. But for such defect related failure, the injuries to decedent Christopher Wilson, which resulted in his death, would not have occurred.
  17. Defendant AMERICAN PACIFIC INDUSTRIES, INC., was aware of design and manufacturing defects in tires similar to the SUBJECT TIRE and issued a recall for some similar tires and implemented design and manufacturing changes in some sizes and models of similar tires, but consciously, in disregard of consumer safety, decided not to recall all relevant tires or implement those same design corrections in all relevant tires. The officers, directors and managing agent of said defendant also knew the ordinary and expected uses of the SUBJECT TIRE, and similar tires manufactured under the same or similar condition, and/or utilizing the same or similar components or design features, including being driven on highways or freeways at freeway speeds, and under conditions that would impose high lateral accelerations, loading and heat, which could and would cause premature, sudden, and catastrophic tread separations in these tires and which would be extremely difficult to detect by ordinary consumers and users. The officers, directors and managing agent of said defendant also knew or should have known that tread separations, particularly on rear tires, could and would lead to sudden and unexpected loss of control and loss of directional stability in vehicles. Further, the officers, directors and managing agent of said defendant acted in conscious disregard of consumer safety by first conceding to the public and then publically disavowing any design defects in such tires, while simultaneously conducting a partial recall of substantially similar tires. By failing to recall all relevant tires that had been manufactured without the design corrections, defendant continued to knowingly expose consumers, such as the decedent to an unreasonable risk of injury or death.
  18. Said defendants, and each of them, in an effort to mislead the public, and thereby increase profits at the expense of human safety, summarily disregarded and failed to disclose to the public this high risk of tread separations leading to sudden and unexpected loss of control in vehicles on which the relevant tires were installed, including the SUBJECT VEHICLE, because such information was unfavorable to their companies and might lead consumers and users to refrain from purchasing or using the tires.
  19. The above described acts and omissions of said defendants by and through their officers, directors, employees and/or managing agents, were carried out with a conscious disregard of the rights and safety of consumers and, therefore, plaintiff is entitled to an award of punitive damages pursuant to California Civil Code § 3294 in an amount sufficient to punish said defendants in light of their financial condition, and to make an example of them, in addition to the compensatory damages to which plaintiff is entitled.
  20. SECOND CAUSE OF ACTION

    (Negligence: Defective Tire)

  21. Plaintiff refers to each of the allegations in paragraphs 1-18, above, which are incorporated by reference herein.
  22. At all pertinent times, defendants AMERICAN PACIFIC INDUSTRIES, INC. and STOCKTON HILL TIRE, also doing business as VEST INVESTMENT CORP., each had a duty to properly manufacture, design, assemble, package, test, fabricate, analyze, and/or inspect the SUBJECT TIRE prior to placing it in the stream of commerce.
  23. Each said defendant knew or should have known that the SUBJECT TIRE and each of its component parts was not properly manufactured, designed, assembled, packaged, tested, fabricated, analyzed, or inspected for the use for which it was intended in that it was likely to injure the person who used it, in that it contained a serious defect that would lead to its failure under normal usage conditions.
  24. Each said defendant breached its duty of care by negligently designing, manufacturing, assembling, packaging, testing and/or inspecting it and each of its component parts, such that it was a defective and dangerous product, unsafe for the use for which it was intended by consumers including plaintiff, and as a result thereof the SUBJECT TIRE was placed into the stream of commerce.
  25. The injuries to and death of the decedent Christopher Wilson and the resulting damages to plaintiff were the direct results of said negligence.
  26. THIRD CAUSE OF ACTION

    (Breach of Implied Warranty re: Defective Tire)

  27. Plaintiff refers to each of the allegations in paragraphs 1-23, above, which are incorporated by reference herein.
  28. At the time the SUBJECT TIRE was put into the stream of commerce, defendants AMERICAN PACIFIC INDUSTRIES, INC. and STOCKTON HILL TIRE, also doing business as VEST INVESTMENT CORP., and each impliedly warranted that the SUBJECT TIRE was safe for its intended use and was of merchantable quality.
  29. Each said defendant breached said warranty, because the SUBJECT TIRE was not safe for its intended use and of merchantable quality in that it was defective and dangerous to a consumer using it in the normal fashion.
  30. The injuries to and death of the decedent Christopher Wilson and the resulting damages to plaintiff were the direct result of said breach of said warranty.
  31. FOURTH CAUSE OF ACTION

    (Strict Product Liability: Defective Vehicle)

  32. Plaintiff refers to each of the allegations in paragraphs 1-27, above, which are incorporated by reference herein.
  33. Defendant FORD MOTOR COMPANY knew that the SUBJECT VEHICLE was to be purchased and used without inspection for defects by consumers including decedent.
  34. The SUBJECT VEHICLE& and each of its component parts was manufactured, designed, assembled, packaged, tested, fabricated, analyzed, inspected, merchandised, marketed, distributed, labeled, advertised, promoted, sold, supplied, leased, rented, repaired, adjusted, selected and used with inherent vices and defects in design and and/or manufacturing and/or by failure to warn of the defect or potential thereof (the "SUBJECT DEFECTS") which made it dangerous, hazardous and unsafe for its intended use or for reasonably foreseeable misuses.
  35. These SUBJECT DEFECTS included, but were not limited to the following:
    • Insufficient lateral and roll stability so as to keep the vehicle upright during cornering and handling by an ordinary driver during reasonably foreseeable roadway and traffic conditions;
    • Failure to warn regarding the above defects.
  36. The existence of the SUBJECT DEFECTS in the SUBJECT VEHICLE caused it, when it experienced the failure of the SUBJECT TIRE, to lose its lateral and roll stability and roll over, which caused the ejection and resulting injuries to and death of the decedent Christopher Wilson
  37. But for such rollover and ejection, the injuries to decedent Christopher Wilson which resulted in his death would not have occurred.
  38. ALLEGATIONS SUPPORTING EXEMPLARY DAMAGES PRAYER AGAINST DEFENDANT FORD MOTOR COMPANY and DOES 1 through 25, Inclusive, ONLY

  39. Plaintiff refers to each of the allegations in paragraphs 1-33, above, which are incorporated by reference herein.
  40. Plaintiff is further informed and believes and thereon alleges that Defendants FORD MOTOR COMPANY and DOES 1 through 25, and each of them intentionally engaged in conduct which, with respect to the SUBJECT DEFECTS which Plaintiff alleges above were a legal cause of their loss, damages, injuries and harm, exposed Plaintiff's decedent and other users of the SUBJECT VEHICLE to serious potential danger known to the Defendants in order to advance the Defendants' pecuniary interests and thus acted with a conscious disregard for the safety of the Plaintiff's decedent and other users of the SUBJECT VEHICLE, warranting an award of exemplary damages against Defendants FORD MOTOR COMPANY, and DOES 1 through 25 pursuant to California Civil Code § 3294, and the rule enunciated in Ford Motor Co. v. Home Ins. Co. (1981) 116 Cal.App.3d 374, 381-382. The facts supporting the Defendants' intentional conduct which exposed Plaintiff's decedent and other users of the SUBJECT VEHICLE to serious potential danger known to the Defendants in order to advance the Defendants' pecuniary interests, are on information and belief, as follows: Knowingly designing and building a vehicle with inherently unsafe stability and handling defects with a dangerously high center of gravity which created a significant risk of rollover during foreseeable emergency maneuvers.
  41. The actions of said Defendants and each of them, as hereinabove described, were thus undertaken with a willful and conscious disregard for the rights and safety of consumers and users of said Defendants trucks, vans and SUVs, including the SUBJECT VEHICLE, in order to advance the pecuniary gains of the Defendants and each of them, and we despicable because such aforesaid conduct would and does kill people, including but not limited to Plaintiff's decedent, during the course of the accident which is the subject of this lawsuit.
  42. Ford's engineers have known from the time of the development of the predecessor to the Explorer, the Bronco II, and the development of the Ranger, that the most important characteristic in maintaining control and reducing the propensity of SUVs and trucks to rollover is understeer. Ford's internal engineering documents identify understeer as a "first order effect" and the "primary factor influencing rollover propensity". The handling problem with an oversteering vehicle, with respect to rollover propensity, is that it can and likely will result in the back end of the vehicle coming around (a loss of control) with the vehicle ending up sideways to its path of travel. The resulting side forces ("lateral acceleration") are what cause rollover.
  43. Ford also recognized a vehicle's "stability index" or " static stability factor" (the "SSF") the relationship of center of gravity height and the track width of the vehicle affects rollover stability. Ford's engineers adopted a "handling strategy" with respect to the Explorer to "increase understeer in all conditions." Ford's engineers recommended major changes from the Bronco II to Ford management. They recommended changes to the suspension, reduction in the engine height to lower the center of gravity, and an increase in the track width of the vehicle to make the Explorer more resistant to rollover than the Bronco II. Ford's knowledge of the critical importance of understeer was not acted upon. In the design of the Ranger, the SSF was much lower than the infamous Bronco II or Explorer, and was only 1.22 for the SUBJECT VEHICLE 1998 Ranger.
  44. The understeer handling problem is exacerbated by another design defect handling problem with Explorer referred to as "Skate." Skate has been defined by Ford as the "loss of rear-end directional control".
  45. In addition to stability issues as noted, the Ranger is especially defective in handling. This is not only as a result of the understeer problem but also due to its tendency to "skate." As noted previously, "skate" is the "loss of rear-end directional control." Any sort of excitation on the suspension, whether a rumble strip, a rough road, or a single pot hole can cause "skate." This is simple engineering and math.
  46. Ford vehicles dynamics engineer, Mr. Kenneth Kramer admitted that Ford knew that Rangers and Explorers had a skate problem at the time he wrote his Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) article in 1996, with regard to skate. Mr. Kramer admits that "skate" could be brought about by a single tramp input. Mr. Kramer was instructed by Ford management not to mention the type or manufacturer of the Ford light truck which he tested for skate, but rather to simply refer to it as "Vehicle A".
  47. The "loss of rear-end directional control" is a severe safety hazard. This is acknowledged by way of Ford's advertisements of their light trucks, specifically the F-150, wherein Ford admits that moving the shocks outward and stiffening the shocks will help with control during tramp situations. This was determined back in the mid-90's and has even been published by Ford Motor Company engineers Ken Kramer and Bill Janitor in their paper, Optimized Damping to Control Rear End Breakaway in Light Trucks. It is established science accepted by Ford engineers. Ford engineers David Shaffer and Ken Kramer have admitted that even a single excitation of the rear shocks can cause tramp in a Ford light truck, such as the Explorer, as a result of the Hotchkiss rear suspension with an overly soft shock. Kramer and Shaffer admitted, years before the SUBJECT INCIDENT, that Ford knew that by moving the shocks outward and stiffening the shocks, they could correct the skate problem.
  48. Plaintiff further alleges that the conduct of the defendants was undertaken with the result that the SUBJECT VEHICLE's ultimate defects in its design and production were fully intended by the Defendants to reside therein such that they were and are the product of entire corporate management and corporate policy of the Defendants with respect to the conscious willful and disregard of public safety for Defendants' pecuniary gain with regard to the design, manufacture, production and marketing of the SUBJECT VEHICLE.
  49. As a direct and proximate result of the aforementioned conduct of Defendants and each of them, Plaintiff submits that an award of exemplary and punitive damages against Defendants FORD MOTOR COMPANY; and DOES 1 through 25, and each of them is proper and appropriate to punish said Defendants and to deter such conduct in the future.
  50. FIFTH CAUSE OF ACTION

    (Negligence: Defective Vehicle)

  51. Plaintiff refers to each of the allegations in paragraphs 1-44 above, which are incorporated by reference herein.
  52. At all pertinent times, defendants FORD MOTOR COMPANY had a duty to properly manufacture, design, assemble, package, test, fabricate, analyze, and inspect the SUBJECT VEHICLE prior to placing it in the stream of commerce.
  53. Each said defendant knew or should have known that the SUBJECT VEHICLE and each its pertinent component parts was not properly manufactured, designed, assembled, packaged, tested, fabricated, analyzed, or inspected for the use for which it was intended in that it was likely to injure the person who used it.
  54. Each said defendant breached its duty of care by negligently designing, manufacturing, assembling, packaging, testing and/or inspecting the SUBJECT VEHICLE and each of its pertinent component parts, such that it was a defective and dangerous product, unsafe for the use for which it was intended by consumers including plaintiff, and as a result thereof the SUBJECT VEHICLE was placed into the stream of commerce.
  55. The injuries to and death of the decedent Christopher Wilson and the resulting damages to plaintiffs were the direct result of said negligence.
  56. SIXTH CAUSE OF ACTION

    (Breach of Implied Warranty re: Defective Vehicle)

  57. Plaintiff refers to each of the allegations in paragraphs 1-49, above, which are incorporated by reference herein.
  58. At the time the SUBJECT VEHICLE was put into the stream of commerce, defendants FORD MOTOR COMPANY each impliedly warranted that the SUBJECT VEHICLE was safe for its intended use and was of merchantable quality.
  59. Each said defendant breached said warranty, because the SUBJECT VEHICLE was not safe for its intended use and of merchantable quality in that it was defective and dangerous to a consumer using it in the normal fashion.
  60. The injuries to and death of the decedent Christopher Wilson and the resulting damages to plaintiff were the direct result of said negligence.

WHEREFORE, plaintiff prays:

  1. For damages in amounts to be proved for medical costs and the wrongful death of her son;
  2. For costs of suit;
  3. For punitive damages,
  4. And for further relief as warranted.

DATED: February 26, 2010 Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys

BY: ______________________________________________
BRIAN D. CHASE, Esq.
JOHN V. BELL, ESQ.
Attorneys for Plaintiff

DEMAND FOR JURY TRIAL

Plaintiff hereby demands a trial by a 12-person jury.

DATED: February 26, 2010 Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys

BY: ______________________________________________
BRIAN D. CHASE, Esq.
JOHN V. BELL, Esq.
Attorneys for Plaintiff.


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