A Sacramento, California jury has awarded a substantial jury verdict against Ford Motor Company.
The vehicle involved was a 15-passenger Ford E-350 Econoline van. According to the Sacramento Bee, "The van skidded off northbound Interstate 5 in Kern County after the tread separated on its rear right tire. Evidence at trial showed that Ford officials had been contacted by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and knew the product was defective but did not make an effort to contact its dealers or customers."
Jurors did find that one of the two men killed in the rollover, Tony Mauro, who was 41, was not wearing a seat belt when he was killed. But the panel also found that it would not have mattered in a crash in which the van rolled over four times while traveling at 70 miles per hour.
Ford was assessed with 59% comparative fault.
The paper reports that:
Mauro’s wife and two sons were awarded $17,525.979 in past and future economic and non-economic damages. The jury found that Ford was responsible for 59 percent of the fault and Goodyear the other 41 percent. Goodyear, which had already settled with the plaintiffs, was not a defendant in the case. The panel attached no responsibility to Mauro for his death.Plaintiff Marlene Shirley was awarded a separate $5,242,670.09. She sustained severe abdominal injuries in the crash. She had her seat belt loosely fastened while she slept on a middle seat and Ford’s lawyers said it was the reason for her injuries. The jury found she was 1 percent responsible for her injuries, Ford 58.5 percent and Goodyear 40.5.A third plaintiff, Alexander Bessonov, who suffered head lacerations in the crash, was awarded $292,000.
Ford was also assessed $50,000,000 in punitive damages.
The Ford 15-passenger van has been the subject of serious safety concerns over the years. NHTSA says that "tire maintenance is paramount to preventing tragedies, such as these recent rollover crashes, from occurring. Users of 15-passenger vans need to make sure the vehicles have appropriately-sized tires that are properly inflated before every trip. The agency also points out that tires degrade over time. For this reason, NHTSA recommends that spare tires not be used as replacements for worn tires. In fact, many tire manufacturers recommend that tires older than 10 years not be used at all."
NHTSA recommends the following for anyone planning a trip in a 15-passenger van:
- If you are an owner, make sure the vehicle is properly maintained.
- Owners should make sure drivers are fully trained and experienced in operating a 15-passenger van and are properly licensed.
- 15-passenger vans are very sensitive to loading and should not be overloaded under any circumstances. Agency research shows overloading not only increases rollover risk but makes the vehicle more unstable in any handling maneuvers.
- Owners should make sure that properly sized tires are being used on their vehicles.
- Before every trip, drivers should check the tires for proper inflation, and make sure there are no signs of wear. Correct tire size and inflation pressure information can be found in the owner’s manual.
- If you are a passenger, make sure you buckle up for every trip.
NHTSA reports that 57 percent of 15-passenger vans have, at least, one significantly under-inflated tire. Read more here.