Appeals Court Orders Ford to Pay $23.7 million

November 28, 2003

A California appeals court has ordered Ford Motor Co. to pay $23.7 million in damages after the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a $290 million award in the same case.

According to Ford, the original $290 million award to the family involved in the 1993 rollover accident was the largest personal injury judgement ever upheld by an appeals court. The Supreme Court dismissed the damages and sent the case back to the state court after ruling in another case that the punitive damages awarded must be reasonable and proportionate to the harm suffered.

The case involved the accident of a 1978 Ford Bronco close to Ceres, Calif., where three people were killed and three others were injured when the Bronco’s roof caved in after overturning multiple times. The accident occurred after the Bronco’s driver tried to avoid hitting another vehcile that cut in front of the Bronco.

The surviving plaintiffs sued Ford, stating that the roof did not have steel reinforcements and therefore was improperly designed. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $4.6 million in compensatory damages and $290 million in punitive damages.

A new trial was ordered by the presiding judge after it was determined that two jurors had shown bias. In the new trial, the California appeals court reinstated the $290 million award. Then the California Supreme Court declined to review the decision in a 4-3 vote.

The appeals court in this week’s ruling said it came to the $23.7 million figure by multiplying the compensatory damages by three, and adding $10 million for Ford’s “extreme reprehensibility.” In the original ruling, the court had stated Ford’s design of the Bronco amounted to involuntary manslaughter. The court said the plantiff family could reject the award and seek another trial for punitive damages. The attorney for the plaintiff stated that they were uncertain whether or not they would accept the ruling.

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