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Ford Wins $31 Million SUV Rollover Case

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On: Mon, Aug 23, 2010 at 9:34AM | By: Sherry Christiansen

Ford Wins $31 Million SUV Rollover Case

In a recent appeals case, Ford Motor Co. won the 2006 lawsuit that involved a life-long debilitating brain injury suffered by a teenager, Jesse Branham, whose injuries resulted from a rollover accident in a Ford Bronco. The $31 million suit was brought against Ford by family members of the teenager.

The case was overturned after a Supreme Court judge found that the teen’s lawyers used evidence that was inadmissible. Evidence, such as a statement that Ford Motor Co. was fully aware that the SUV was defective and had a high probability of rolling over. The judge also shouldn’t have allowed Branham’s attorneys to offer evidence of Ford executives’ pay when seeking punitive damages against the automaker during the 2006 trial, the court said. “The admission of this evidence was error and highly prejudicial,” the state’s highest court said in an August 16 ruling.

Ronnie Crosby, a Hampton, South Carolina-based lawyer for the family stated: “We believe there is ample evidence to demonstrate the Bronco II is defective and unreasonably dangerous and we’re eager to present that evidence to another jury.” Marcey Evans, a spokeswoman for Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford, declined to comment.

In 2006, when the jury returned its initial verdict, Branham was 17; he was a passenger in the 1987 Bronco when it flipped over. Branham’s parents stated that the Bronco was unstable, which they testified was the cause of the accident.

The Hampton state-court jury awarded $16 million in actual damages and $15 million in punitive damages. Ford appealed the verdict.
According to Bloomberg News report: “The accident occurred after the driver, Cheryl Jane Hale, turned to look at children in the back seat of the Bronco, according to the appellate court decision. The vehicle began drifting off the road and she steered hard to the left, causing the SUV to roll, the filing shows. “No one was wearing a seatbelt,” Justice John W. Kittredge noted in the ruling.

Branham’s family testified in court that Ford knew the Bronco was defectively designed and had a tendency to roll over. The teen’s lawyers used internal Ford documents as evidence, including documents about the suspension system. A former Ford executive testified on behalf of the family.

The family’s attorneys also exhibited evidence about rollover problems that postdated the Bronco’s 1986 manufacture date, Kittredge noted. “The trial judge also erred in failing to bar evidence of similar accidents from being presented to jurors,” Kittredge said.

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