Ford Motor Co. has been ordered by a Florida state court jury to pay $30.7 million to the family of a child left brain damaged when the Ford van she was riding in rolled over after a tire blew out. Jurors in state court in Miami, however, decided Mary Phyllis Jimenez, who was 12 at the time of the May 1999 accident, was 50% responsible for her own injuries because she wasn't wearing a seatbelt when the Ford Econoline van her family was driving to DisneyWorld in rolled over.
Ford officials and plaintiffs' lawyers told news agencies they expect Judge Thomas Wilson to cut the verdict to about $15 million.
``Mostly this is a consumer safety case,'' Ervin Gonzalez, lead lawyer for the girl's family, told Bloomberg. ``What it shows people is that Ford needs to stop putting profits over people and stop making cars that roll over.''
In the Jimenez case, jurors found that Ford employees improperly installed tire valve stems on the Goodyear tires put on the Ford van. The faulty installation led to a slow leak, which prompted the tire to blow out, the Jimenez family's lawyers contended.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a consumer warning in April that 15-passenger vans are three times more likely to roll over when 10 or more people are inside.
``Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the Jimenez family, but this is a sad reminder that seatbelts can only help protect passengers when they are worn,'' said Kathleen Vokes, a Ford spokeswoman.
Ford is facing a wave of lawsuits alleging its Ford Explorer SUV is prone to roll over. The automaker has settled about 200 suits alleging the Explorer is a rollover threat in accidents, especially when equipped with tires made by Bridgestone Corp.'s Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. unit. The lawsuits say the Firestone tires have a high failure rate tied to tread-separation problems.
One person was killed in the wreck that injured Jimenez, and several of the other 10 passengers were injured, said the family's lawyers. The lawyers argued that although the rollover was caused by a tire blowout, the van's unstable design was a big factor in the girl's injuries.