A San Diego woman lost her ability to walk after her Ford Explorer rolled over and its roof collapsed on her spine, crushing it. She was awarded $369 million by jurors who sat and listened to the evidence against Ford. That amount was later whittled down to $83 million by an appellate judge.
The U.S. Supreme Court allowed the punitive judgment to stand Monday rejecting an appeal from lawyers for Ford Motor Co. They had argued that punitive damages were unfair and unconstitutional since the design of the Ford Explorer met all safety standards set by the government and industry.
It seems that almost weekly we are reporting on Ford Explorer rollovers.
It was an Explorer filled with high school students who rolled on a Jacksonville road killing four of the teens in the Florida SUV rollover accident on the last day of school in June.
Notoriously unstable, until stability control was added, and with a high center of gravity, the Ford Explorer also had an insufficient roof strength that allowed it to collapse. In hearing the case, the jury heard that Ford could have strengthened the roof and avoided catastrophic head injuring for about $20 per vehicle.
Ford was joined by its friends at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the appeal. The Chamber usually sides with big business no matter what the issue and no matter how morally questionable the product made by the industry (asbestos, cigarettes etc).
The Chamber doesn’t want juries to be able to impose punitive punishment on manufacturers. Imagine the doors that open if injured citizens can, with a jury’s help, tell a corporation exactly what they think about them. In this case, jurors listening to the evidence decided they wanted to punish Ford for its “conscious disregard” of the safety of its customers.
Originally, the jurors awarded her $369 million, one of the largest awards to date against a manufacturer, with about one-third to compensate her for her paralysis, the remaining to punish Ford.
But awards of that size frequently don’t stand. Both the trial judge and a California appellate court reduced the verdict down to the $55 million in punitive, the rest in compensatory damages.
Luckily, the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest court, today refused to hear the appeal of the $55 million in punitive damages.
Maybe to Ford that extra $20 a vehicle doesn’t sound like such a bad investment about now.