A west Alabama jury awarded $151,791,000 in a product liability case against Ford Motor Company after a man was paralyzed in a rollover crash. The verdict includes $51,791,000 in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages.
Prone to Rollovers
In August 2015, Travaris “Tre” Smith was riding in a 1998 Ford Explorer in Dallas County when the driver swerved to avoid an animal on the road. This maneuver, known as an accident-avoidance maneuver, caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle.
The Explorer’s design is prone to rolling over, especially during these emergencies, rather than sliding out like similar vehicles. Unfortunately, this happened to the Explorer that Smith was in, causing it to roll over twice before finally coming to a stop on the shoulder of the road in an upright position.
Smith fell unconscious, and his spine snapped as the vehicle rolled over. The injury forever changed his life.
“We represent a 24-year-old young man who cannot be left alone to care for himself in any way,” said Beasley Allen principal Kendall Dunson. “This verdict represents justice for Tre and his family.”
Explorer Failed Ford’s Own Safety Guidelines
The jury sided with Smith in finding that Ford failed to meet its safety guidelines for the Explorer’s rollover resistance requirement and attempted to cover up the vehicle’s faulty design.
“Ford failed Tre and so many other consumers. The jurors in Dallas County held Ford accountable for yet another tragedy in a decades-long saga of the company’s efforts to cover up the shoddy design and its refusal to adequately address the problems,” said Beasley Allen principal LaBarron Boone.
The 1998 Ford Explorer has been involved in two significant safety recalls in the U.S. due to its flawed design. The model repeatedly failed Consumer Union tests due to its tendency to roll over, and company engineers recommended that the design be altered, but Ford refused to do so.
Ford switched from real-world testing to a computer simulation called ADAMS but found the data invaluable and too expensive to maintain.
During the trial, plaintiffs explained that Ford attempted to resist redesigning the Explorer by altering less expensive components such as air pressure and tire sizes, but these efforts were unsuccessful. Even after decades, the flawed design is still sold to consumers, resulting in severe injuries and fatalities.
“Ford should have spent money redesigning this dangerous SUV model rather than paying huge amounts to defend the cases,” said Beasley Allen Lead Products Liability Attorney Greg Allen, adding that Ford has paid one expert more than $75 million in the past 16 years for their defense.
A team of lawyers represented Smith, including LaBarron Boone, Greg Allen, Kendall Dunson, Dan Philyaw, Stephanie Monplaisir from Beasley Allen, and Bill Gamble from Gamble, Gamble, Calame, and Jones LLC.
The case is Travaris D. Smith v. Ford Motor Company et al., 27-CV-2016-900273.00, in the Circuit Court of Dallas County, Alabama.