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Motor Vehicle Defects Blamed For Roof Crush In 1997 Ford Explorer

Most motor vehicle defect attorneys will agree that roof crush accidents are deadly. In 2002, 49-year-old Benetta Buell-Wilson was driving her 1997 Ford Explorer along Interstate 8 in California when tragedy struck. A tragedy that, regrettably, we've seen repeat itself far too often. In her public statement, Buell-Wilson recalled how her nightmare unfolded. "A metal part flew off the RV in front of me, bounced on the road and careened toward my windshield," said Buell-Wilson. "As I swerved to avoid it, my SUV tipped, rolled over four times, and the Ford roof crushed in on me.

Buell-Wilson filed a motor vehicle defect lawsuit against Ford seeking punitive and compensatory damages for the multiple injuries she suffered in the SUV accident. Said Buell-Wilson, "My back was shattered, my legs were broken, my spleen was injured and all the ligaments in my knees were torn. People could not pull me from the wreckage. When my rescuers finally cut me out, I was airlifted to the hospital. Doctors told my husband and children that I wouldn't make it through the night. I am now permanently paralyzed."

Buell-Wilson noted that, "There are some people who are involved in SUV rollover accidents and walk away. So I was left with the lingering question, "Why couldn't I walk away from this?'" As I began to research other SUV rollover crashes involving SUVs, I learned about the car's structure and how roof crush seemed to be a common theme in the SUV crashes. I learned that the entire structure of the SUV weakens after the first impact of a rollover and that government rules about roof strength are incredibly weak."

Ford spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes, answered, saying, "The Explorer meets or exceeds all federal safety standards. There is no SUV product defect with the Explorer."

Buell-Wilson had a different opinion. "I think car manufacturers are misleading people about the safety of their cars. They market to families with children, but average consumers don't know how weak the standards are for the strength of roofs during a SUV rollover crash like mine. The current roof crush test is not a real test," she said.

A product liability attorney who represented Buell-Wilson alleged that Ford had sacrificed passenger safety for profits. The auto product liability lawsuit involved design issues found on all Explorers made through 2001.

"This is a textbook example of car makers simply refusing to face the hard cold facts that revealed an unsafe, not crashworthy design," noted nationally recognized auto product liability lawyer John Bisnar. "Ford wouldn't even follow its own engineers' suggestions to widen the Explorer's wheel track or to lower this SUV's center of gravity. These changes would have cost Ford some money, but it would have made the Explorer more stable and perhaps have prevented a rising cascade of tragic roof crush injuries. Similar cost concerns also kept Ford from sufficiently reinforcing the Explorer's roof."

Said Buell-Wilson, "In an ideal world, companies would take pride in being at the forefront of safety. Americans are supposed to be innovative, but too many car companies are thinking only about profits. That won't change unless you take away the choice. They are going to make their cars safer only if the government mandates it. Telling my story makes me realize that I am lucky to be able to tell it. Most people who have had these kinds of SUV accidents are dead."

Benetta Buell-Wilson was awarded $246 million in punitive damages--two days after the same San Diego County jury ordered Ford to pay compensatory damages of more than $122.6 million. The verdict marked Ford's first loss after 11 victories in SUV rollover lawsuits involving the Explorer, the nation's best-selling sport-utility vehicle. Buell-Wilson offered to knock $100 million off the damage award if Ford recalled millions of Explorers and corrected the design flaws that she says left her wheelchair-bound. In a statement, Ford insisted the Explorer was safe.

"Ford hiding behind paltry government standards and insisting that its SUV was safe as designed makes a mockery of what consumers should rightly expect from a car maker," observed Brian Chase of the nationally recognized auto defect lawyers Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys. "Ms. Buell-Wilson"s open letter is a heartfelt testament to the trust many consumers have placed in the cars and SUVs they purchase. It's so regrettable that this trust is so often violated in the rush to profits. Our hope is that these auto product liability lawsuits, and the many lawsuits we have filed against Ford will convince them to improve their vehicles and make them safer for consumers."

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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