Auto Product Liability / Ford Explorer Rear Restraint System / Lap Only Seat Belt
$17,716,401 Verdict - 12/18/2009, Wheeler v. Ford Motor Company, et al., State Court, Clayton County, Georgia.
Plaintiffs Lynn and Douglas Wheeler won their design defect and failure to warn claims against Ford Motor Company relating to the 2002 Ford Explorer. On Christmas morning 2005, 58 year old Lynn Wheeler was on her way to church with her family. Lynn Wheeler was seated in the rear center seat of her sons 2002 Ford Explorer, wearing the lap-only seat belt Ford installed for that seating position. Two of Lynn Wheelers grandchildren were in child seats on either side of her. As they entered a curve on Noahs Ark Road, a 2-door Eagle Talon coupe driven by John C. Stanley crossed the centerline and struck the Explorer head-on.
In the crash, the latch on the Explorer rear bench seat broke and the seat collapsed and began to fold down and forward. The lap only seat belt also allowed Ms. Wheeler to jackknife over and strike her head on the back of the front seat. As a result, Lynn Wheeler suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury that left her quadriplegic.
Mr. Stanley admitted responsibility for the crash. Ford denied all responsibility. At trial, plaintiffs proved Ford knew, from Fords own crash tests and internal documents, that its rear center seats and restraint systems were failing and endangering passengers. Plaintiffs proved Ford planned to install a safer design including a three-point belt instead of a lap only belt -- in the 2002 Explorer but decided to delay that design to a later model year.
At the conclusion of trial, the jury awarded $17,716,401 for Lynn Wheeler and her husband's claims. The jury also separately found that Ford's conduct showed reckless disregard for safety and decided to award additional punitive damages against Ford. After a second phase of trial, while the jury was out deciding what amount of punitive damages to award, Ford settled the case. The amount of the settlement is confidential.