An image from the computer animation that defense accident reconstruction expert Geoffrey Germane used to explain his theory that Melvin and Voncile Hills' Ford truck rolled over more than twice in their fatal wreck.
Lawrenceville, GA—An accident reconstruction expert testified that a catastrophic tire blowout sent a Ford truck violently out of control and led to a multiple-revolution rollover that killed a Georgia couple, as Ford mounted its defense Tuesday over claims the company was responsible for the fatal wreck. Hill v. Ford Motor Co., 16-C-04179-S2.
Geoffrey Germane, of Germane Engineering, told jurors his reconstruction showed Melvin and Voncile Hills’ truck rolled over two-and-a-half times before coming to rest on its roof in an April 2014 wreck.
The Hills died in the wreck, which began when 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.
Attorneys for the Hill family contend Ford is at fault because the company knew the truck’s roof was far too weak for the vehicle’s weight, leading the roof to completely collapse in the rollover.
However, the defense argues that the truck’s roof was strong enough to withstand the vast majority of rollover wrecks, and the Hills’ deaths were actually the result of a combination of the tire blowout and a rare, extraordinarily severe, multiple rollover.
As part of nearly four hours of testimony Tuesday, Germane walked jurors through his reconstruction of the crash, concluding the truck's roof struck the ground three times as it rolled up an embankment and across a driveway.
Under questioning from Huie’s Alan Thomas, Germane told jurors damage to the truck supported his conclusions. "There are abrasion directions that you can’t explain any other way. They’re on the right front fender, they’re on the left fender… and the rear view mirror itself,” Germane said, outlining his reconstruction showing the vehicle’s progression. “This vehicle had to have rolled prior to reaching the driveway [near the accident scene], a full revolution.”
On cross-exam, however, Butler Wooten Peak’s Brandon Peak, representing the Hill family, sought to paint Germane as a defense expert for hire, with Germane acknowledging he had worked on behalf of Ford more than 100 times and had never reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that he found a defect in the vehicles he tested.
Key to the plaintiffs’ argument is that the Hills’ crash was not the extraordinarily severe rollover characterized by the defense and that a properly designed roof would have withstood the wreck. During Tuesday’s cross-exam, Germane acknowledged gaps in physical evidence, such as a lack of recorded debris, where Germane’s reconstruction shows the truck making its first rollover.
Trial in the case, which opened two weeks ago, is expected to extend into next week.
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The Hill family's attorneys include Butler Wooten & Peak LLP's Jim Butler and Brandon Peak.
Ford's attorneys include Huie’s D. Alan Thomas, Dentons’ J. Randolph Evans, and Huff Powell Bailey’s Michael Boorman.