The first day of trial in a wrongful death suit against Ford Motor Co. over its Excursion SUV saw a safety expert call Ford “irresponsible” for failing to physically test the Excursion's roof prior to a 2009 fatal rollover crash involving one of the vehicles.
Brian Herbst, a vehicle roof safety expert, described multiple structural failures in the roof of a 2000-model-year Ford Excursion, causing it to crush during a rollover crash that killed Rafael Trejo. During testimony Tuesday, Herbst said that Ford typically performed physical safety testing on its vehicles' roofs. Herbst testified that such tests would have revealed the likelihood the Excursion’s roof would be crushed in a rollover, but “for whatever reason (Ford) chose not to do any physical testing on this particular” model's roof."
Trejo’s wife Teresa Trejo is suing Ford for $27 million, claiming the vehicle’s defective design and the company’s failure to properly test the vehicle caused her husband’s death when the roof collapsed.
In opening statements Tuesday, Teresa Trejo’s attorney Jody Mask told jurors that even Ford's simulated testing of the Excursion's roof showed that it could only support 1.12 times the vehicle’s weight, while company design criteria required that lighter vehicles support at least 1.725 times their own weight. “The Excursion failed, and failed miserably,” in its simulated testing, Mask said.
However, Ford’s attorney Vaughn Crawford argued in opening statements that physics, rather than the vehicle's roof design, caused Rafael Trejo’s death. Using a vehicle model to demonstrate, Crawford told jurors in opening statements that the “forces and violence of (the Trejos’) two-and-a-half rollover crash” threw Rafael Trejo inside the SUV, fatally injuring him before the roof collapsed. “That’s physics, and it’s real engineering,” Crawford said.
Ford produced the Excursion, the largest and heaviest SUV in North America during its production run, from 2000 through 2005. It stopped selling the model in the U.S. in 2005 and completely ceased sales one year later.