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Motor Vehicle Defects: 1997 Ford F150 Pickup Dangerous Gas Tank

Most motor vehicle defect attorneys will agree that the 1997 Ford F150 is a dangerous truck to drive. In 1999, John Mathes was driving a 1997 Ford F150 pickup on Interstate 70 near Warrenton, Montana after a hard rain. When Mathes' pickup, which was pulling a camper trailer, collided with a semi that had flipped over, another car, traveling more than 50 miles per hour, slammed into Mathes' rear axle, which tore a 6-inch gash in the pickup's fuel tank. When the pickup erupted in flames, John and Shirley Mathes and their 8-year-old grandson, Jacob Mathes, were burned to death. The fire, which was hot enough to melt the road's pavement, burned the three so badly that identification was not possible for several days.

Gordey Mathes, the son of John and Shirley and the father of Jacob, filed a auto product liability lawsuit against Ford. His product liability attorneys alleged that the F150's defective design included failure to properly shield the gas tank, and that the pointed edges on the anti-lock-brake sensor guards, located on the forward edge of the rear-axle differential, tore a gouge in the gas tank.

"Ford had run car crash tests of the F150's production model at 50 miles per hour," noted John Bisnar, nationally recognized auto defects attorney. "The truck failed the internal standards set by Ford, yet they sold this truck to the public. What's particularly alarming is that many of these F150s with the small plastic shields on the fuel tanks are still on the road today. Curiously, Ford's four-wheel-drive model was equipped with a large steel shield covering the entire underside of the fuel tank. It doesn't take a genius to conclude that Ford should have provided similar protection for its two-wheel-drive F150s."

At the trial, Ford maintained that the Matheses didn't survive the pickup's initial impact with the tractor-trailer. But three witnesses testified they heard at least two people screaming for help in the wreckage. A medical doctor also testified that the G-forces the decedents suffered from deceleration on impact were not enough to kill them, that the F150 cab was not severely crushed and that the bodies showed no fatal impact-injuries.

On the evidence presented, the jury concluded that had it not been for the fire fueled by the F150's gas tank rupture, John, Jacob, and Shirley would have been safely rescued from the pickup. Ford points to no evidence to the contrary, relying instead on pure speculation about potential consequences of the other fires.

After deliberating more than four hours over two days, the jury found Ford liable for the Mathes' deaths. They awarded $3 million in compensatory damages for the death of 64-year-old John Mathes, $2.5 million in compensatory damages for the death of 58-year-old Shirley Mathes and $7 million in compensatory damages for the death of Jacob Mathes.

A spokeswoman for Ford called the car accident tragic and said the driver of the tractor-trailer "was traveling at excessive speed in a construction zone." Ford said they would appeal, adding, "Our condolences go out to the Mathes family, but this tragic car crash could only have been prevented by responsible driving."

"Clearly, car makers with their vast financial and testing resources should be able to design and implement safer gas tank designs and shielding," observed Brian Chase of the nationally recognized Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys motor vehicle defect law firm. "Gordey Mathes suffered a terrible loss, yet he chose to protect other families who might suffer the same fate by confronting Ford and holding them accountable for this obvious product defect. Our sincere hope is that these product defect lawsuits, and the many lawsuits we have filed against Ford, GM, Chrysler and foreign car makers will convince them to design safer gas tank systems that are more crashworthy, thereby preventing 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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