January 31, 2002 - Ford Explorer Design Found Defective by State Jury
Ford Motor Co.'s Explorer design was found defective for the first time by a jury, though the world's No. 2 automaker won't have to pay damages for injuries a family suffered when its sport-utility vehicle rolled.
The Barstow Superior Court jury voted 10-2 that the 1994 Explorer was defective due to a high center of gravity and faulty suspension, said Garo Mardirossian, a lawyer for the Gozukara family. Barstow is in the Mojave desert east of Los Angeles. Ford isn't liable for damages because the jury also found that a dealership negligently failed to fix a vibration that caused the truck to veer into a freeway barrier. The dealership faces the damages phase of the trial beginning Tuesday.
The verdict may signal new danger for Ford in other Explorer rollover suits. The automaker has defended itself in court saying Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. tires, which were recalled last year, were to blame for accidents.
"Now the flood gates may be open," said Mardirossian. "A jury for the first time in the Explorer's history found the vehicle to have a defect in its high propensity to roll over. The real story is it's not the tires."
The Gozukaras were driving to Las Vegas in 1997 when their Explorer allegedly began to shake violently and careened out of control, hitting a concrete barrier and then rolling over four times. Catherine Gozukara, 40, is a paraplegic and lost her pregnancy. Her 41-year-old husband, Agop, broke several bones in his legs and struggles to walk.
Ford's attorney in the Barstow trial, Daniel Rodman, couldn't be reached for comment. Ford spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes offered condolences over the Gozukara's injuries and said the company would have no other comment tonight.
The Barstow case doesn't involve allegations that a Firestone tire failed. In two other Ford rollover cases that likewise didn't allege tire failures, juries in Arizona and Texas found the company wasn't responsible for deaths and injuries.
Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford has settled about 200 lawsuits with plaintiffs suing for serious injury and wrongful death involving tire-tread separations. In January 2000, Ford paid $30 million to settle with a quadriplegic woman the day her rollover- tread failure trial was to begin in Texas.
Ford documents show that one of its engineers, assigned to examine fatal rollovers in Venezuela, concluded the Explorer's shock absorber system was 40 percent to blame for wrecks in that country. Plaintiffs submitted those company documents in a class- action lawsuits against Ford and Firestone.
Since the documents were made public, Ford has said the engineer, Edivia Caballero, was inexperienced and wasn't supplied the proper data to draw such conclusions.
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