Ford Motor Co.
faces a possible $1.7 billion in punitive damages after a Georgia court’s verdict Friday in a case involving a 2014 Ford F-250 truck rollover that left two people dead.
A Gwinnett County court ruled that Ford should be awarded damages for selling 5.2 million Super Duty trucks with what plaintiffs’ lawyers said were dangerously weak roofs that could crush occupants in a rollover accident, according to James Butler, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the case.
The case was brought by the family of a Georgia couple, Melvin and Wonsil Hill, who were driving a 2002 Ford F-250 Super Duty truck from their farm when the right front tire blew and the truck overturned, Mr. Butler said. . The Hills were crushed inside the truck, he added.
“While our condolences go out to the Hill family, we do not believe the verdict is supported by the evidence and intend to appeal,” a Ford spokesman said Saturday.
The $1.7 billion verdict is believed to be one of the largest in Georgia history and is unusually large for an accident-related lawsuit involving an auto manufacturer. Typically, damages in these types of cases run into the millions of dollars and many are settled out of court. Often, high-dollar verdicts are later reduced by judges or appeals courts.
“The Hill family are delighted that this part of the case is finally over,” Mr Butler said. “They intend to persevere and make Ford pay.”
On Thursday, a Georgia jury awarded plaintiffs Kim and Adam Hill, the children of the couple who died in the crash, $24 million in damages, Mr. Butler said. The jury placed 70 percent of the blame in the case on Ford, Mr. Butler said.
Ford executives have been working for years to address costly quality and warranty problems with their vehicles, including making that effort a priority under current CEO Jim Farley. The company has issued 49 recalls this year, the most of any automaker, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“We continue to be hampered by recalls and customer satisfaction actions,” Mr. Farley said on a July earnings call. “This affects our costs, but more importantly, it falls short of our most fundamental commitment to our customers.”
It could not be determined whether the quality issues the company is trying to address are related to the accident in Georgia.
Last year, Ford spent more than $4 billion on warranty costs, up 76 percent from five years earlier. The car company’s total warranty costs increased about 17% from 2016 to 2021.
Earlier this year, Mr. Farley brought in a new executive director of quality, Josh Halliburton. Prior to joining Ford, Mr. Halliburton spent 17 years at JD Power, an independent research firm specializing in the evaluation and study of vehicle quality.
“We are putting more time and emphasis on making sure everything is done right up front to prevent quality issues from occurring later in the development process,” Mr. Halliburton said.
He added that he expects to see Ford’s warranty problems improve next year, but that it may take two to three years to see results with the biggest impact.
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