Las Vegas—Jurors awarded the widow of a Ford SUV passenger $4.5 million in her suit stemming from a 2009 rollover crash that killed her husband and crushed the vehicle’s roof.
The jury, which began deliberations late Monday, returned a verdict Tuesday afternoon finding that the roof of the 2000 Ford Excursion SUV in which Rafael Trejo died was defectively designed. The award to Rafael Trejo's widow Teresa included $2.5 million for loss of income, $1.5 million for grief and sorrow, and $500,000 for Rafael Trejo’s pain and suffering before his death.
Rafael Trejo died in a single vehicle rollover accident that crushed the roof of the Ford Excursion SUV in which he was a seatbelted passenger. Rafael's wife, Teresa Trejo sued Ford for $27 million, claiming that the roof was not strong enough to support the weight of the vehicle, which was the heaviest production SUV in North America while it was manufactured. Plaintiff, represented by Jody Mask, claimed that the roof's collapse fractured Rafael's neck, pinning him inside the vehicle and suffocating him.
However, Ford, represented by Vaughn Crawford, argued that the SUV's roof was properly designed and that, in any event, the roof-crush did not kill Rafael Trejo. Ford claimed Trejo died from a "diving injury," when the rollover crash slammed Rafael's head against the vehicle’s roof, fracturing his neck and killing him, before the roof collapsed. During closing statements, Crawford criticized the testimony of plaintiff's experts as "courtroom engineering" that ignored the motion of Rafael's body within the vehicle as the SUV rolled over. "Do you think that if some testing would have proven any of (plaintiff's) arguments... do you think you would have seen the testing by plaintiffs?" Vaughn asked jurors. "Let's not check common sense at the door when we go back to deliberate."
In his closing statement, Mask reminded jurors that Dr. Ross Zumwalt, who performed the autopsy on Rafael Trejo,testified that Rafael did not have a skull fracture or brain swelling that would indicate that his head struck SUV's roof during the rollover. "Ford's trying to sell you a diving theory," Mask said. "That's not what happened in this case."
Mask also reminded jurors of evidence that Ford never physically tested the safety of the Excursion's roof before selling it, and that Ford's computer testing showed that the Excursion did not meet Ford's roof-strength requirements for lighter-weight vehicles. which he claimed led to Rafael Trejo's death. "Ford stuck their head in the sand before the ever put this vehicle on the road," Mask said.
"If you think that a 5'4" man should be able to walk away from a 27 mile-an-hour crash, you will return a verdict for Ms. Trejo," Mask said.