Ford has found itself on the losing end of a lawsuit in Dallas County, Alabama, after a jury determined the automakermore than $151 million to the victim of a 2015 crash.
At the time, a young man named Travaris (Tre) Smith was a passenger in a 1998 Ford Explorer. According to reports, when the driver swerved to avoid an animal, instead of skidding the vehicle flipped twice. Smith’s spine was snapped, leaving him paralyzed.
Smith’s attorneys say the payout will allow the 24-year-old access to home health care, as his current medical challenges don’t allow him to be left alone to care for himself. But if you look at the specifics, the compensatory judgement in this case was only a third of the total amount: the jury is applying $100 million as a punitive damage.
So why is Ford being punished so significantly? Because the jury blames the accident on a flaw in the Explorer’s design. And Smith’s attorneys argued this is more than just an accident – or even negligence. They say that “engineers at Ford advised the company to change the design, but that it instead changed the testing process and destroyed data from the original testing.”
According to Reuters, a court document says the jury claimed the automaker “acted wantonly” and that the vehicle did not meet Ford’s own safety guidelines.
Ford has responded with a statement expressing sympathy for the victim and his family, but also says it disagrees with the verdict and also with certain court rulings it claims kept the jury from hearing “critical evidence” in the case. Ford says it will appeal and also notes that it has redesigned the Ford Explorer since the 1998 model year.
Ford has faced many lawsuits over the years – including a massive class action suit covering a million plaintiffs – that related to the high risk these early model Explorers had of flipping. The class action plaintiffs, who were owners of Explorers from model years 1991 to 2001 said their vehicles had dropped in value due to the well-known rollover risk. They accused Ford of deceptive advertising and, at the time, the company was forced to limit safety claims in its advertising.