Ford Motor Company
is facing a potential $1.7 billion in punitive damages after a Georgia jury reached a verdict on Friday in a case involving a 2014 rollover of a Ford F-250 pickup truck that left two people dead.
The Gwinnett County jury ruled that Ford should indemnify Ford for the sale of 5.2 million Super Duty trucks with what plaintiffs’ lawyers said were dangerously weak ceilings that could crush passengers in a rollover accident, according to James Butler, attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. case.
The case was brought by the family of a Georgia couple, Melvin and Voncile Hill, who were driving a 2002 Ford F-250 Super Duty truck from their farm when the right front tire blew out and the truck flipped, Butler said. The Hills were crushed inside the truck, he added.
“While our condolences go out to the Hill family, we do not believe the verdict is supported by the evidence, and we plan to appeal,” a Ford spokesperson said Saturday.
The $1.7 billion verdict is believed to be one of the largest in Georgia’s history and is unusually large for a lawsuit related to an accident involving an automaker. Typically, damages in these types of cases run into the millions of dollars, and many are settled out of court. Often, high-value verdicts are later downgraded by judges or appellate courts.
“The Hill family is happy that this part of the case is finally over,” Butler said. “They intend to persevere and make Ford pay.”
On Thursday, the Georgia jury awarded plaintiffs Kim and Adam Hill, the children of the couple who died in the crash, $24 million in compensatory damages, Butler said. The jury assigned 70% of the blame in the case to Ford, Butler said.
Ford executives have worked for years to resolve costly quality and warranty issues on their vehicles, including making that effort a priority under current Chief Executive Jim Farley. The company has issued 49 recalls this year, the most of any automaker, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“We continue to be plagued by recalls and customer satisfaction actions,” Farley said on an earnings call in July. “It affects our cost, but more importantly, it falls short of our most fundamental commitment to our customers.”
It was not possible to determine whether the quality issues the company is trying to resolve have anything to do with the Georgia accident.
Last year, Ford set aside more than $4 billion for warranty costs, up 76% from five years earlier. The automaker’s total warranty expenses increased by about 17% from 2016 to 2021.
Earlier this year, Mr. Farley brought in a new Chief Executive of Quality, Josh Halliburton. Before coming to Ford, Mr. Halliburton spent 17 years at JD Power, an independent research firm specializing in evaluating and studying the quality of vehicles.
“We are putting more time and emphasis on ensuring that everything is done in advance to prevent quality issues from manifesting themselves later in the development process,” said Halliburton.
He added that he expects to see Ford’s warranty issues improve over the next year, but that it could take two to three years to see results with the greatest impact.
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