2002: Ford Explorer Rollover 139
to Frank Branson, a Texas lawyer who has often tangled with Ford, he
“can’t remember encountering a defendant who set about in a more
orchestrated way to conceal evidence from the public’s eye and from
disclosure in courtrooms. Additionally, judges who have heard Ford
cases describe Ford’s courtroom conduct as “totally reprehensible,
“disgusting, “blatantly lied, and “almost borders on the criminal. Tom
Feahency, a Ford vice president in the 1970s and 1980s who now testifies
as an expert witness against Ford, agrees. “They’ve been an outstanding
practitioner of it [so that] an awful lot of plaintiffs go away” (Levin,
2004a).
With this litigation strategy, Ford literally settled hundreds of cases involv-
ing Explorer rollovers, and won 13 trials in which plaintiffs claimed Explorers
were defective because of rollover risk or inadequate roof risk. Recall that
Explorers with low static stability factors had been manufactured from 1990
until 2000. Not until June 2004 did Ford lose its first Explorer trial, in which a
jury found an Explorer was defective because of its instability and weak roof.
A jury awarded Benetta Buell-Wilson $246 million in punitive damages and
$122.6 million in compensatory damages, for a total of $368.6 million. In
January 2002, Buell-Wilson was paralyzed after she lost control of her 1997
Explorer (Levin, 2004b). Ford then lost three subsequent Explorer rollover
trials in August 2004; on March 1, 2005; and on March 18, 2005. Numerous
other lawsuits are pending.As an indication of total lawsuit size, Ford lawyers
acknowledged there were more than 1600 lawsuits or claims involving
Explorer rollovers before July 2000 (Plungis, 2005).
THE 2002 FORD EXPLORER
Between 1983 and 2001, 3,826 people were killed in Ford Bronco II or
Explorer rollovers (EWG, 2005a). In consideration of safety, the 2002
model Ford Explorer was completely redesigned. Its tires were larger, with
a higher recommended pressure, and it was 2.5 inches wider. The primitive
leaf-spring suspension dating back to buggies was replaced by carlike coil
springs, which improved braking and were more resistant to sideways
wheel movements. Frame rails were now enclosed, rather than shaped like
the letter “C, which made the vehicle stiffer in general (Bradsher, 2000).
APPLICABLE REGULATIONS
California was one of plaintiffs in the $51.5 settlement related to
Ford Explorer false advertising claims, which were described at the
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