Ford's Design Decisions at Issue as Damages Trial Opens Over Fatal Rollover Crash

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Aug 10, 2022 3:43:17 PM


Stock image. 

Lawrenceville, GA— Attorneys last week debated critical elements of Ford Motor Company's vehicle design decisions as trial opened over a 2014 rollover crash that killed a Georgia couple. Hill v. Ford Motor Co., 16-C-04179. 

Melvin and Voncile Hill died when a tire on their 2002 Ford Super Duty F-250 Crew Cab pickup separated on a highway in Americus, Georgia, causing the truck to roll over and crush the roof. 

Following a 2018 mistrial in the case, sanctions were entered against Ford on defective design and failure to warn claims, among others, leaving the trial that started last week focused largely on damages. However, the Hill family’s outstanding claim for punitive damages in addition to compensatories means Ford’s design decisions remain a key battle line at trial. 

During openings last Thursday, the Hill family’s attorney, Butler Prather’s James Butler, walked jurors through evidence he said showed Ford should be punished financially for the wreck. 

Butler said Ford knew of dozens of similar roof-crush incidents both before and after the Hills’ crash. Meanwhile, he said, in 2005, the company’s engineers had designed a much stronger roof that the company chose not to use on similar Super Duty models for more than a decade. And he noted Ford’s own representative testified that there was nothing the company would have done differently in hindsight, following the Hills’ crash. 

“If you wonder why punitive damages must be imposed against Ford,” Butler said, “there’s the answer.” 

But Ford argues its design decisions did not rise to the level of misconduct warranting a punitive award. During Thursday’s openings, Troutman Pepper’s William Withrow and Watson Spence’s Michael Boorman previewed evidence they said showed Ford’s design decisions were in the interest of overall safety. 

Withrow told jurors evidence would show Ford explored and implemented a variety of safety alternatives in its vehicles, including accident avoidance features. 

“The evidence will show that Ford spent a lot more money developing and implementing other technologies to improve safety,” Withrow said, “which they believed would reduce fatalities and save lives.”

Trial in the case is expected to last roughly three weeks. CVN is streaming the trial live and on demand, and will provide updates via its news page. 

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Topics: Georgia, Hill v. Ford Motor Co.