A Georgia jury's $1.7 billion punitive damages verdict against Ford Motor Co. over a fatal rollover collision shines a light on an alleged defect that previously has resulted in confidential settlements. But the award may not stick, attorneys told Law360, especially if a Georgia law prompts a post-trial settlement.
Elderly couple Voncile and Melvin Hill were killed in 2014 when the Ford Super Duty F-250 pickup truck they were driving rolled over on a rural Georgia road. Their sons, Kim and Adam Hill, sued Ford, alleging that the company knew the roof of its Super Duty trucks was dangerously weak yet kept it on the market.
On Aug. 18, a Gwinnett County, Georgia, jury found Ford mostly to blame for the Hills' accident, awarding the couple's sons $24 million in compensatory damages. The jury added $1.7 billion in punitive damages the following day.
Leslie Mitchell Kroeger of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, who has represented plaintiffs in truck roof crush cases against Ford, told Law360 in an email that her cases also have ended in confidential settlements with Ford.
These roof crush crashes "traditionally result in catastrophic injury or deaths," she said.
For instance, Cohen Milstein client Carlos Paz-Orjales reached a confidential settlement in 2018 with Ford over the same defect alleged by the Hill family.
Paz-Orjales had been a fully seat-belted passenger in a 2005 Ford F350 Super Duty King Ranch truck when the driver lost control of the vehicle and the truck rolled over, according to Cohen Milstein's summary of the case.
The firm said the truck's roof caved in and crushed Paz-Orjales, severely injuring his spine and permanently rendering him a quadriplegic.
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