In new court filings Monday, Ford said it was unfairly prevented from providing evidence that would have shown the truck involved in the fatal incident was safe and that the roof structure was stronger than many of its peers.
The lawsuit is over a 2014 accident that killed two members of the plaintiffs’ family. The family sued Ford, claiming the truck’s roof design was defective and vulnerable to collapse during a rollover accident.
The auto company argued Monday that a state judge in 2018 effectively barred Ford from defending against plaintiffs’ claims that the truck’s roof design was defective, according to the most recent filings.
Ford also said in the documents that it could not sufficiently prove at trial other factors at play that may have contributed to the fatalities, including its claim that the occupants were not wearing seat belts properly.
“Ford didn’t get to present its case,” said Theodore Boutrous, a lawyer for the automaker. “He was fighting with both hands behind his back.” The verdict is the highest ever handed down in Georgia history, attorneys in the case said.
Ford filed two motions Monday in state court in Gwinnett County, Georgia. One motion sought a new trial, while the other challenged punitive damages awarded to the company in August.
James Butler, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said he would address the points Ford raised in those motions and doesn’t believe Ford has a defense to present.
Ford’s response is the latest in a case that began in 2016, when the family of Melvin and Voncile Hill filed a lawsuit, alleging that the roof of the couple’s Ford F-250 crushed them fatally during a rollover accident and was defective as designed.
A judge declared a mistrial at first glance, saying Ford violated several rulings on the admissibility of evidence, according to records filed in the lawsuit. The court, as a result of the conduct, imposed sanctions on Ford in future court proceedings, records show.
Ford said in filings Monday that he did not violate the orders that led to the sanctions ruling, according to the new filings. The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Mr. Butler disagreed with Ford’s claim, saying the company’s conduct was clearly documented in court records.
Ford’s Mr. Boutrous said the judge at the time ordered the jury in the upcoming trial to consider certain issues as he believed established, including that the roofs of Super Duty trucks made by Ford between the 1999 and 2016 model years were unsafe. and defective
Ford said it had evidence it couldn’t use in testing this summer that showed the Super Duty trucks had a stronger roof structure than competitors. Additionally, Ford said it could have shown that increasing the strength of the roof would have made no difference in Hill’s crash. The jury might have ruled differently if not for the sanctions order, Ford said.
The fatal accident happened in 2014, when the Hills were driving from their farm in Georgia. The right front tire on the couple’s heavy truck blew out and the vehicle overturned, according to court documents.
The Hills were crushed inside the truck, Mr. Butler.
Attorneys for the Hill family argued at trial that the roofs installed on the 5.2 million Super Duty trucks with model years between 1999 and 2016 were defective in design, dangerously weak, and that the company allegedly knew of the risks they supposed Ford has maintained that the 2002 F-250 pickup truck cited in the lawsuit was reasonably safe as designed, was not defective, and met industry standards.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys also said in a pretrial order that Ford has identified 162 lawsuits related to roof crush incidents in those specific model year trucks.
Mr. Boutrous said there are other factors that can cause injuries in a violent rollover crash that aren’t related to roof design. He also said that in four other lawsuits involving similar rollover incidents involving Ford trucks, the company prevailed. Three of them were decided by a jury, he said.
In the Hill case, Ford’s lawyers had argued that the tire installed on the couple’s truck had the wrong load capacity, causing it to fail. Ford said that when the tire went flat, Mr. Hill missteered his truck, causing it to leave the road at a dangerous angle.
“There are millions of these vehicles on the roads of the United States,” said Mr. Boutrous “The safety record is strong.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the auto industry’s top safety regulator, shows no investigative actions or safety recalls related to roof collapse incidents involving 1999-2016 Ford trucks.
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