Lawrenceville, GA—Ford ignored clear safety issues in the roof design of many of its F-series pickup trucks, leading to the 2014 death of a Georgia couple in a rollover crash, an attorney for the couple’s family said as trial opened against the auto giant last week. Hill v. Ford Motor Co., 16-C-04179-S2.
“Ford knew this roof was weak, knew this roof was dangerous, long before April 3, 2014 when Mr. and Mrs. Hill were killed,” Butler Wooten & Peak's Jim Butler told jurors last Thursday. “Ford kept selling these trucks. Ford knew people were getting killed by these trucks. And Ford warned nobody.”
Melvin and Voncile Hill were killed after a tire on their 2002 Ford Super Duty F-250 Crew Cab pickup truck failed on SR 49 in Americus, Georgia, causing the truck to roll over and crush the roof.
The couple’s family contends the truck’s roof was far too weak for the vehicle’s weight, leading the roof to completely collapse in the rollover.
During Thursday’s openings, Butler told jurors the auto company altered the roof’s design as part of a pre-production cost-containment measure that dangerously weakened the roofs. That decision affected models produced from 1999 to 2007, according to the complaint filed in the case.
On Thursday, Butler said the roofs were never subjected to real-world tests and that evidence, including testimony from engineers as well as the company’s own internal documents, would show Ford leadership rejected recommendations to make them stronger. “The evidence will show that the fundamental truth of this case is that Ford never let the engineers do what they could have done to make this roof stronger and safer,” Butler said. “Ford’s executives are responsible for this. The engineers knew how to build a stronger roof, they designed and built a stronger roof, and Ford’s executives didn’t use it.”
Butler, who told jurors he would seek punitive damages as well as compensatories in the case, contended the Hills’ wreck was one of many similar cases stemming from the weak roof design. “The evidence will show, and Ford cannot deny, that unless somebody does something, more people are going to die,” Butler said. “That’s just a fact.”
However, Ford claims the truck’s roof was well-designed and took into account the vast majority of vehicle crashes. During Thursday’s openings, Huie’s Alan Thomas outlined the truck’s five-year design process, and contended the roof had generally been strengthened throughout various stages in planning and design.
Thomas added the truck substantially met company engineers’ target numbers in computer tests and that real-world testing performed by one of plaintiffs’ experts showed the truck far exceeded engineering targets. "There’s no vehicle, no automobile, no truck, that’s injury proof,” Thomas said. “And, there’s no roof that’s crush proof in a crash.”
Rather than defective roof design, Thomas said the Hills' death was the result of a severe wreck caused by a tire failure. Thomas walked jurors through a computer animation of the crash, which showed the truck rolling over three times and across a ditch before coming to rest upside down at the top of a berm. “But for the fact that there was a bad tire, we’re not here. This crash doesn’t happen,” Thomas said. “It’s a combination of a bad tire and the way they went off the road into the ditch…[that] is the reason why we’re here.”
Trial is expected to last into next week. CVN is streaming the trial live.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hills' lawyers include Butler Wooten & Peak's Jim Butler and Brandon Peak.
Ford's representation includes Huie’s D. Alan Thomas, Dentons’ J. Randolph Evans, and Huff Powell Bailey’s Michael Boorman.