U.S. Supreme Court lets $82 million Calif. judgment against Ford stand

Chris Rizo Nov. 30, 2009, 11:52am

U.S. Supreme Court building

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal by Ford Motor Co. over an $82.6 million judgment in a product-liability suit over the company's Explorer model.

Benetta Buell-Wilson of California and her husband sued Ford after her sports-utility-vehicle overturned in 2002 east of San Diego.

When Buell-Wilson swerved to avoid a piece of metal on the road, the 1997 Explorer rolled over and its roof collapsed. Her husband was not in the car at the time of the accident.

The accident crushed Buell-Wilson, leaving her a paraplegic.

Buell-Wilson's lawyers say the Explorer's design made it prone to rolling over and the vehicle's roof was not designed to withstand a rollover. For its part, Ford has argued that it should not be punished because the Ford Explorer design met federal safety standards.

A San Diego County jury awarded her nearly $356 million in damages; the trial court cut those damages in half. Later, the California Court of Appeals cut the compensatory damages award to $27.6 million and the punitive damages award to $55 million.

Today, the judgment against Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Co. sits at $87 million with interest.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 remanded the case back to the state appeals court, citing its Philip Morris USA v. Williams decision that found that juries can't demand defendants pay punitive damages for harm caused to people not tied to the case.

The appeals court upon review did not change its ruling. The case is Ford Motor Co. v. Benetta Buell-Wilson, 09-297.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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