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ARTICLE ID 41084

- PRODUCTS LIABILITY - ALLEGED DESIGN DEFECT IN FORD EXPLORER - CLAIMED INHERENT INSTABILITY - ROLLOVER ACCIDENT - WRONGFUL DEATH OF 16-YEAR-OLD MALE PASSENGER.

Lehigh County

This accident stemmed from a rollover accident in Whitehall Township on November 12, ________, in which a 16-year-old male passenger was killed. The decedent was riding in the rear seat of a ________, two-door 4x4 Explorer Sport manufactured by the defendant Ford Motor Company. The local car dealership where the vehicle was purchased new was also a defendant in the case. The plaintiff claimed the Explorer had a design defect rendering it inherently unstable. The defendant argued that the vehicle was not defectively designed and the accident was caused by the negligence of the vehicle’s driver who was driving at an excessive speed. The driver/owner of the vehicle settled the plaintiff’s claims prior to litigation.

In November, ________, the minor decedent was a rear seat passenger in a ________ Ford Explorer being driven by a 23-year-old who was a friend of the brother of the decedent’s friend. The youngsters were en-route to the decedent’s home after the decedent had helped move furniture at the home of the driver’s parents.

Evidence established that the vehicle was being driven at a speed of 70 to 77 mph in a 55 mph zone. The driver of the vehicle testified that a vehicle in front of him suddenly braked, and he braked and turned left and then right to avoid impact. Accident reconstruction experts testified that the "two-steer" maneuver (left and then right) caused the Ford Explorer to roll over at least three times. The experts estimated that the vehicle had slowed to a speed of approximately 55 mph at the point it began rolling.

The plaintiff’s vehicle dynamics expert opined that the Ford Explorer Sport was inherently unstable due to its narrow track width and the height of its center of gravity. He opined that these features combined with the addition of original equipment oversized tires to make the vehicle inherently unstable and caused the roll over.

The plaintiff claimed that the defendant’s testing during development of the vehicle showed at least two rollovers, putting the defendant on notice of stability problems. The young decedent was ejected from the vehicle. He was taken by helicopter to the hospital. He died approximately four hours post-accident during emergency surgery as a result of massive blunt force trauma and bleeding.

The plaintiff’s economist testified that had the young decedent survived, his expected lifetime earnings would have been between $1.4 and $2.8 million.

The defendant’s accident reconstruction expert testified that any vehicle will roll over under the right circumstances. The defense maintained that the accident was caused by the excessive speed and sharp turning maneuvers of the vehicle’s driver.

The jury found that the Ford Explorer at issue was not defective and a defense verdict was entered.

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