Just two months ago, the Ford Super Duty roof lawsuit resulted in a $1.7 billion punitive damage award against the automaker, and now both sides are continuing the legal battle.
In August 2022, a Georgia jury awarded $1.7 billion in punitive damages to the family of Melvin and Voncile Hill, who were killed when the roof of their 2002 F-250 SuperDuty collapsed in a rollover accident. Attorneys for the family showed the roof on these trucks failed in the company’s own internal testing and that Ford engineers developed a stronger roof for its Super Duty pickups in 2004 but that roof wasn’t used in trucks sold to customers until the 2017 model year, according to court documents.
Since this decision, things have gotten even more complicated.
Naturally, Ford has defended its position, and its legal team has asked for a new trial.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Ford isn’t expected to get a new trial even though the legal team has said it was barred from sharing important documents.
Ford’s legal team contends the roof structure in the 2014 was stronger than its peers, and it was actually a safe truck. The team claims the judge barred the company from providing evidence on this point and thereby was effectively prevented from defending themselves.
Also, the automaker’s legal team says it wasn’t able to provide evidence showing other factors resulting in the fatalities such as the occupants weren’t wearing seat belts properly and they were using truck tires with incorrect load ratings, which lead to tire ruptures and the crash.
A legal expert also said the punitive damage amount will likely be reduced.
“It’s a headline-grabbing sum, but it will never come to pass,” Nora Freeman Engstrom, law professor at Stanford University told the WSJ.
She further explained punitive damages should be no more than nine times as high as the compensatory damages, which in this case totaled $24 million.
Defendants update their lawsuit
The Hagens Berman law firm representing the owners says they have updated their filing as well.
An amended class-action complaint was filed on September 27, 2022, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan shows a “timeline of repeatedly downgraded steel components and removal of key structures” in Ford’s Super Duty pickup trucks.
Lawyers for the firm claim the roof was weakened due to cost-saving measures from the automaker putting drivers in real danger in a rollover accident. Plus, the firm says the automaker has stated it has so far identified 162 lawsuits and 83 similar incidents of roof crush involving 1999-2016 Super Duty trucks.
Specifically, the law firm says several key structural changes lead to the problem such as: deletion of a windshield outer, deletion of the front header outer, downgage of the steel in the windshield header inner as well as the roof bows, rear door vertical beams and the A-Pillar.
Plus, the amended lawsuit claims: “Ford downgraded the steel in another structural pillar from Boron steel (which is multiple times stronger than normal steel) to mild steel. The lawsuit states that Ford has no test results to show what affect the downgages and changes in roof and door structure had on roof crush strength.”
If you own or lease a 1999 – 2016 Ford Super Duty pickup truck, contact Hagens Berman to find out more about this issue.
The bottom line
More court room drama for this ongoing dispute is likely push any punitive damage awards to owners further away. With the size of the punitive damage award, it is easy to think this will take years to fully resolve.