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Ford Settled Dozens of Truck Rollover Lawsuits Before Landmark Verdict

Ford Super Duty trucks

In August, a Georgia judge ordered Ford Motor Company to pay $1.7 billion in a massive auto defect roof crush verdict. This lawsuit was the culmination of nearly 20 years of auto product liability lawsuits challenging the safety of the roof of the Super Duty pickup truck.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the before the almost $2 billion settlement, Ford settled dozens of other cases over the years relating to defective roofs linked to multiple deaths – all while maintaining that its trucks are safe.

Litigation Involving Truck Roof Failure

The complaint involves Super Duty pickup trucks manufactured between 1999 and 2016. It is alleged that in a rollover accident, the roof can fail and collapse, causing serious injuries including paralysis or death. The Wall Street Journal found that Ford had been sued 58 times just over a 17-year period.

Those 58 lawsuits involved 38 people who died in accidents involving Ford Super Duty pickup trucks. Others, the Journal says, were seriously injured. This includes victims who were left paralyzed or quadriplegic. Ford settled 43 of those 58 lawsuits – but the details are unknown or confidential. One of Ford’s attorneys says the company has won just four of these lawsuits.

The recent $1.7-billion settlement comes after the 2014 deaths of Melvin and Voncile Hill, an elderly couple. A tire rupture on their 2002 F-250 caused the truck to roll over. The couple’s attorneys said the roof of the pickup truck caved in and crushed the victims. Ford laid the blame on the couple, maintaining that the tire ruptured because of “incorrect load-carrying capacity.” The couple’s son wanted the case to be brought to trial.

Now, Ford is seeking a new trial citing that it did not get to properly defend itself because of the judge’s “sanctions.” Ford plans to argue that the roofs of its Super Duty trucks are safe as designed, even though the deaths, catastrophic injuries, and settlements suggest otherwise. Ford said it sold about five million of these heavy-duty trucks during the 1999-2016 model years.

Rollover Accidents and Roof Crush Instances

The issue of roof strength in rollover crashes has been the subject of litigation in the auto industry for many decades now. It has spurred lawsuits against a number of large U.S. automakers and several multi-million-dollar jury awards, including against Ford and General Motors.

When roofs crush or cave in during a rollover, the survival space for occupants is greatly limited or eliminated altogether, so that the heads and spines of occupants contact the roof. In addition, when the roof crushes, it could also open “ejection portals,” making windows and the windshield area very large, leading to the ejection of occupants, which is often fatal. Auto safety experts estimate that as many as half of seriously-injured ejected occupants could have received their initial injuries because of the roof crushing.

The auto industry has also tried to argue over the decades to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that occupants “dive” into the roof. This ignores the obvious fact that if the seat structures and safety belts held occupants in place during a roll, and if the roof was strong enough to withstand the weight of the vehicle, the head and spine of occupants would be relatively safe.

Many of the investigations our law firm has done have shown that occupants’ injuries directly correlate with the way the roof intrudes into the vehicle. So, when there is a roof crush, occupants tend to be more seriously injured than when the roof doesn’t cave in.

Rollovers Result in Major Verdicts and Settlements

Rollover cases – particularly those that involve roof crushes – often conclude in large settlements because they cause severe effects and can be expensive to litigate. They require more experts than other product liability lawsuits. They can also be a public relations nightmare for automakers when the cases go to trial.

Rollover cases often involve catastrophic injuries, and the potential for large verdicts is as high as the potential for negative publicity. In many cases involving Ford vehicles, attorneys have argued on behalf of plaintiffs that Ford has been aware of the weakness of its vehicle roofs, but has done nothing to change the roof design.

What to Do If You Have Suffered Roof Crush Injuries

Rollover accidents can be significantly traumatic. Here are some of the steps you can take after a rollover accident to protect your legal rights:

Medical treatment: Depending on the nature and severity of your injuries, you may require prompt medical attention. Often, rollover accident victims require surgery and ongoing treatment and rehabilitation. This is particularly true for those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries or spinal cord damage. Even if you don’t believe that your injuries are bad, it is still important that you see your doctor to better understand the impact your accident has had on you.

Evidence: Take as many photos of the accident scene and your injuries as possible. It is important to speak with eyewitnesses and write down as detailed an account of the incident as possible. It may also be helpful to obtain surveillance video that might show precisely how the accident occurred and what happened during the accident.

Preserving the vehicle: In an auto product liability case, the vehicle is the most important piece of evidence. Preserving the vehicle in its current state unaltered will help experts examine the vehicle for evidence of auto defects, mechanical malfunctions, and design flaws.

How an Experienced Auto Defect Lawyer Can Help You

If you have been injured in a rollover crash where a roof crush is involved, you want a law firm that has experience handling similar cases involving life-changing injuries. You need a law firm on your side that has access to experts who can conduct a thorough investigation and has the resources to take the case to trial if that becomes necessary.

These are cases that often result in significant amounts of compensation, which is much needed for victims who need those resources and funds for future care and quality of life.

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California Personal Injury Blog