Recently, Ford settled a suit involving one if its 2002 Explorer SUVs while the jury was deliberating the amount of punitive damages. The jury had already assessed compensatory damages in excess of $16 million against Ford for design defects, which attorneys for the plaintiffs argued caused one of the occupants, Lynn Wheeler, to become paralyzed in a collision. The lawsuit alleged that Ford’s design for both the back seat latch and the decision to install a lap belt rather than a three-point shoulder belt was negligence. The jury agreed after it was presented with evidence that Ford had known about the dangers of lap-only belts for over 30 years and that Ford had delayed plans to install the three-point shoulder belt in order to save money. According to accounts of the trial, evidence was presented showing Ford’s crash tests, some of which dated as far back to the 1960s, where the rear seats collapsed and the crash-test dummies sustained head injuries similar to the injuries sustained by Lynn Wheeler.
In addition to finding Ford liable for negligence and the injuries to Lynn Wheeler, the jury also found that Ford should be held liable for punitive damages. The jury was actually deliberating what this amount would be at the time Ford agreed to settle the whole case for an unspecified and confidential sum. The lawyers for the plaintiffs could not comment on whether the settlement amount was larger or smaller than the original jury award. Additionally, based on the confidentiality of the settlement, Ford is declining to comment.