Our firm has settled three separate lawsuits against Ford Motor Company, each involving rollovers of Ford SUVs. In each case an occupant of an SUV died when they were either totally or partially ejected from their vehicle. The cases involved a 1997 Ford Explorer, a 1999 Ford Explorer and a 1999 Mercury Mountaineer which is the sister vehicle to the Explorer.
In each case, there were defects associated with the vehicles’ roof structure, which allowed excessive collapse of the roof into the occupant compartment during a foreseeable rollover event. Each occupant was properly belted and found with the belt around their body or parts of their body following the wreck.
Our design experts determined that the roof structure for the Explorer was inadequate to provide occupant protection in a rollover event. They also determined that there was a defect in the seat belt system of the Explorer. The experts found that in a rollover event the Explorer seat belt system could intermittently unlock allowing slack to be introduced into the belt system. It was also determined that when excessive crush occurred, the B-pillar would be forced inward, inducing additional slack into the belt system since the belt D-ring was mounted on the B-pillar. According to our experts, Ford should have developed an appropriate occupant restraint system that worked within a vehicle that was known to have a weak roof and propensity to rollover.
In one case, the driver was able to get her head more than 12 inches above the roof rail because the seat belt failed to properly restrain her and the roof collapsed around her. In another case, the driver was ejected out the rear passenger door window but his ankles were caught in the seat belt system. He was found hanging out of the driver side rear window. In the third case, the occupant was allowed to be partially ejected and her lower torso crushed under the weight of the vehicle.
In each case, the occupants were properly belted, but received fatal injuries due to roof crush and excessive belt system slack. In one case, Ford’s representative agreed that the Explorer seat belt system was designed primarily for frontal collisions and not rollover events. In one of the cases, an Alabama State Trooper testified that he saw more repeat rollover wrecks involving the Ford Explorer. The Trooper also testified that in teaching public safety courses to the public he often advised parents not to purchase the Ford Explorer for their children due to its propensity to rollover and be involved in fatal wrecks. Each of the cases were settled with the amounts of the settlements being totally confidential.
Greg Allen, Cole Portis, Ben Baker and Rick Morrison, all of whom are lawyers in our firm, worked on these cases. They did a very good job for their clients in the three cases. If you want more information on the cases or on the Explorer problems, contact Ben Baker at 800-898-2034 or by email at Ben.Baker@beasleyallen.com.