Defective vehicle lawsuits: Large award in Alabama SUV rollover case

The jury awarded $52 million in compensatory damages, plus $100 million in punitive damages, which are meant to punish the automobile company.

In February 2019, a jury in Dallas County, Alabama, awarded a paralyzed man almost $152 million in damages for his injuries from a 2015 SUV rollover accident. Reuters reported that in 2015 the young man had been a passenger in a 1998 Ford Explorer SUV when the driver swerved to avoid hitting an animal, after which the vehicle rolled over twice.

CarBuzz reported that the accident severed the victim’s spine, resulting in permanent paralysis, that the jury decided that a flawed design caused the accident and that “Ford attempted to cover up the defective design.” The jury also found that the vehicle violated company safety standards and that Ford “acted wantonly,” according to Reuters, which also reported that Ford stated it redesigned the vehicle after the 1998 version.

WHNT.com reported that the model had been twice subject to safety recalls because defects in design made it susceptible to rollovers and that the plaintiff asserted at trial that Ford “resist[ed] redesigning the Explorer.”

After the verdict, Ford publicly said it was going to appeal the case.

SUV case an example of Alabama product liability lawsuit

Broadly, product liability means that when a dangerous or defective product injures or kills someone, those that got the product into the consumer’s hands are liable for the harm. Potentially responsible parties may include manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers and other product providers.

Product liability cases involving vehicles like cars, SUVs, vans and trucks may concern defective design in the overall vehicle body or in individual parts such as faulty brakes, seat belts or airbags, fuel or electrical systems, tires and others.

A plaintiff’s lawyer in a defective vehicle case will launch an extensive investigation into the design, safety testing and manufacturing history of the model, a process often involving consultation with experts.

Damages for injury from a defective product

Another important aspect of such a case is to prove the extent of injury and project the ongoing medical needs of the victim, so that the jury has the information needed to award sufficient money damages to support the plaintiff going forward. For example, compensatory damages may be appropriate for past and future needs and costs:

  • Medical costs
  • Therapies, including physical, occupational and psychological
  • Modifications to home and vehicle
  • Personal care and housekeeping services
  • Pain and suffering
  • Lost wages and loss of earning potential
  • And more

In particularly serious cases, the jury may award punitive damages meant to punish a wrongdoer or hold the defendant out as an example that will deter others from engaging in similarly dangerous behavior, rather than to compensate the victim for losses that can be assigned a dollar value.

Alabama law allows punitive damages in a tort action if there is “clear and convincing evidence that the defendant consciously or deliberately engaged in oppression, fraud, wantonness, or malice with regard to the plaintiff.”

Personal injury attorney Jonathan Coleman Sapp of The Sapp Law Firm, L.L.C., in Jasper represents clients in Tuscaloosa, Jasper, Birmingham and the surrounding region who were injured by dangerous or defective products, including faulty motor vehicles causing harm through faulty design or parts. He also represents the surviving loved ones of people who have died in such situations.