When a fatal motor vehicle accident is caused someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, surviving family members and loved ones are left stunned and desperate for answers, which is often the motivation for bringing a wrongful death case.
The family members of two people who died in a 2004 car accident have finally received those answers, along with a $73 million jury verdict. $50 million of the award consisted of punitive damages against the Ford Motor Co. The rest of the amount represents compensation for the families.
The April 9, 2004, fatal accident involved a church-based musical group was returning home to Sacramento, California, from a statewide tour. The group was traveling in a 15-passenger, E-350 Econoline van when the treads on its tires began to separate, causing the van to shake so violently that the driver lost control of the vehicle.
The van spun out sideways and then barrel-rolled four times. The driver, a 48-year-old man, and the front-seat passenger, a 41-year-old man, were killed in the. Two back-seat passengers were also seriously injured in the crash.
It was later found that the Goodyear tires installed by Ford on the E-350 Econoline were defective and had been recalled — and Ford had known they about the recall for two years. However, perhaps because the company feared bad publicity after a previous defective tire case involving Firestone tires, Ford did not notify its dealers or known purchasers of the affected vehicles.
The jury in the wrongful death case found Ford to be 59 percent responsible for the fatal accident, and that Goodyear was 41 percent responsible. Goodyear had already settled with the plaintiffs prior to trial. The $50-million punitive damages award will not be reduced to account for Goodyear’s share of responsibility, however, as it was the result of the jury’s finding that Ford had acted out of “malice or oppression” by not notifying its dealers and buyers of the defective tires.
Ford says it will appeal the decision. However, Ford and other auto manufacturers should now be on notice that they must put driver safety ahead of concerns about bad publicity and always provide crucial information about product defects and recalls.
Source: The Sacramento Bee, “Sacramento jury hits Ford with $73 million penalty,” Andy Furillo, Nov. 11, 2011