SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Nov. 17, 2011) — A jury in Sacramento Superior Court has ordered Ford Motor Co. to pay $73 million to plaintiffs in a tire failure court case that alleged Ford was responsible for the deaths of two members of the Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church in Sacramento and the severe injuries of two others.
Ford said it plans to appeal the verdict.
Four church members were riding in a 15-passenger Ford E-350 Econoline van on I-5 in Sacramento on April 9, 2004, when a Goodyear Load Range E tire on the van—of a model on which Goodyear had conducted a voluntary replacement program two years earlier—suffered a tread separation, causing the van to vibrate, plaintiffs' attorneys said.
The driver, William Brownell, 48, tried to steady the vehicle by pulling it into the median, but when Mr. Brownell tried to pull back onto the road, the van overturned four times, killing him and front seat passenger Tony Mauro, 41. Another passenger, Marlene Shirley, suffered severe abdominal injuries, and a fourth, Alexander Bessonov, suffered lacerations, according to the lawsuit. Ford and Goodyear, according to the original complaint filed in March 2006, acted with reckless disregard for the lives of the passengers by allegedly deliberately selling defective products. Goodyear settled with the plaintiffs before the trial.
The plaintiffs also alleged that Ford never told its dealers about the Goodyear replacement program because it wanted to limit bad publicity after the Ford Explorer-Firestone ATX/Wilderness light truck tire recall of 2000.
“At no time did Ford Motor Co. ever communicate to its dealers of the defective tire and the need to get it off of these 15-passenger vans,” stated a press release from Dreyer Babich Buccola Wood, the Sacramento law firm that represented the plaintiffs.
In its defense, Ford argued that the van was not defective, that Mr. Brownell drove negligently, and that the passengers either weren't wearing seat belts or wore them too loosely. It also denied withholding information about the Goodyear replacement program.
In a 10-2 decision Nov. 10, the jury awarded the plaintiffs $50 million in punitive damages. It also awarded $17.5 million to Mr. Mauro's wife Susan and sons Michael and Cody. Although Mr. Mauro wasn't wearing his seat belt, the jury determined a seat belt wouldn't have saved his life.
Van passengers Marlene Shirley received $5.2 million, and Alexander Bessonov $292,000.
Warren E. Platt, attorney for Ford, said the company would appeal. “I don't have anything to say that hasn't already appeared in the press,” he said.