SACRAMENTO, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--After seven weeks of testimony and five days of deliberation a California jury returned a verdict for victims of a rollover crash represented by Roger A. Dreyer of the Dreyer Babich Buccola and Wood law firm and Christine Spagnoli of the Greene, Broillet & Wheeler law firm of over $70 million, including compensatory damages for the family of Tony Mauro, a passenger who died in the crash, in the amount of $17.5 million. The verdict is the largest in an automotive product case this year.
On November 10, 2011 a jury determined that Ford Motor Company’s conduct was despicable in the handling of a Tire Replacement Program in 2002. The jury determined that Ford, which had information about the defective tires from the tire manufacturer, Goodyear, failed to provide information to its customer base and owners of E-350 Econoline 15 Passenger Vans. The jury determined that Ford’s conscious disregard of consumer safety and refusal to accept any responsibility to alert consumers was a breach of its responsibility as a manufacturer, and awarded punitive damages in the amount of $50 million.
“A manufacturer cannot have information that deals with the very fabric of human life, of being alive or being dead, and keep that information to themselves,” Roger Dreyer stated after the verdict. “When corporate arrogance is so clearly palpable in a case like this, there is no excuse for them not providing that information."
On April 9, 2004, an E-350 15 Passenger Van owned by the Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church suffered a catastrophic right-rear tire tread separation that resulted in the vehicle going out of control, rolling over four times and killing its driver, Bill Brownell, and its front-seat passenger, Tony Mauro.
The evidence included a determination by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) that large vans, like the Ford E-350 15 passenger van, were disproportionately involved in fatal rollover crashes following a tread separation of a rear tire. After NHTSA opened a defect investigation into the Load Range E tires in November, 2000, which was initiated after Ms. Spagnoli submitted evidence of 37 incidents involving the Goodyear tires, Goodyear agreed in February, 2002 to replace the older model tires that had been installed on 15 passenger vans with its new design that included a nylon overlay.
Co-trial counsel, Christine Spagnoli, added that, “The evidence we presented established the long history of Ford’s knowledge about the dangers of these 15 passenger vans, which are extremely difficult to control in the event of a tire failure. Ford knew that the Goodyear tires presented an unreasonable risk on these vans, and chose to keep quiet rather than alert consumers.”
The trial focused both on Ford’s original design of the E350 15 passenger vans, which dated back to the early 1970s and its knowledge of the particular tread separation risks associated with the Goodyear tires that Ford specified for use on the vans.
In 1974 Ford saw a market for a large “people mover” van and sought to put a vehicle on the market to compete with Chrysler and GM. During the development process, Ford’s own engineers recommended a longer wheelbase and dual rear wheels to address the handling difficulties of such a heavy extended vehicle. But in the rush to market, Ford management delayed and ultimately never implemented the safer design. The evidence demonstrated that in the ensuing decades, the vans were involved in numerous tragic crashes leading to multiple deaths, and prompting a first ever consumer advisory by NHTSA in 2001 about the unique dangers of 15 passenger vans.
As early as 1999, Ford knew that Goodyear had changed the Load Range E tire design. Ford installed the safer tires on new E350 15 passenger vans beginning with the 2001 model year. Despite Ford’s knowledge of the investigation by NHTSA, the change in construction by Goodyear, and its own internal decision to use the safer tires on new vans, Ford never communicated this information to its customer base, owners of 15 Passenger Vans, or its dealerships.
In February of 2002, more than two years before the death of Tony Mauro, Ford was informed by Goodyear that it had entered into an agreement with NHTSA to perform a Voluntary Replacement Program to remove the old 4-ply Goodyear Load Range E Tires from all 1992 – 2000 model year 15 passenger vans. Goodyear specifically asked Ford to provide it with information to identify owners of the vans.
At no time did Ford Motor Company ever alert its own dealers about the defective tire and the need to take them off the 15 Passenger Vans. The Goodyear Load Range E 4-ply tire that failed in the crash was installed on Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church’s Van in 1999, prior to the change in construction by Goodyear and before Ford began using the safer tire as original equipment on 15 passenger vans in late 2000.
During the course of trial, Ford’s representatives testified that they did not notify their dealers or consumers because they viewed it as a “Goodyear campaign” and that they were never specifically asked by Goodyear or the government to notify their customers of this defective tire on the 15 Passenger Vans.
The jury, in its deliberations and ultimate verdict, determined that the van’s design was defective, and that the handling difficulties associated with the tread separation caused the crash. The jury concluded that the conduct of Ford Motor Company was despicable and ultimately decided that an appropriate award of $50 million against Ford would, hopefully, educate its corporate officers on their failure to their consumer base. Read the full story and see video of the Ford representative testifying at www.dbbwlaw.com/ford. This is a Sacramento Superior Court Case; case number 06AS01246.