Georgia Jury Returns $1.7 Billion Punitive Damages Verdict Against Ford Motor Company
Today a jury in Gwinnett County Georgia answered the question left pending by their verdict rendered yesterday: what amount of punitive damages should be imposed against Ford Motor Company for selling 5.2 million “Super Duty” trucks with a dangerously weak roof that would crush down on occupants during a rollover wreck. The unanimous jury imposed $1.7 billion in punitive damages against Ford.
Yesterday the jury returned a verdict for Plaintiffs Kim and Adam Hill for the wrongful deaths of their parents, Voncile and Melvin Hill, and for pain & suffering by their parents after the rollover wreck of their 2002 Ford F250 on April 3, 2014. That verdict totaled $24,030,500. The jury apportioned 30% of the damages against Pep Boys, a tire distributor that mistakenly installed the wrong size, or “load range,” tires on the Hills’ truck in 2010. That mistake caused the right front tire to blow out, causing the wreck. Undisputed evidence at the trial showed the wreck was survivable, and the crushing of the roof caused the injuries that lead to the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Hill. Pep Boys settled in 2018.
The case has been litigated for several years, and was tried for three weeks in 2018 until Ford’s violation of a multitude of Court Orders forbidding Ford from injecting into the trial arguments the Court had excluded caused the Gwinnett State Court to grant a mistrial. The Court subsequently sanctioned Ford.
This second trial also lasted three weeks.
The retrial was delayed because Ford filed an appeal to the Georgia Court of Appeals, which dismissed the appeal as illegitimate. Ford then petitioned the Georgia Supreme Court to review the Sanctions Order; that Court denied the petition, 8-0. The pandemic intervened and caused further delay.
In an attempt to get the case tried again quicker, Plaintiffs filed a formal waiver of jury trial, opting to try the case before a Judge only. Ford refused and insisted on a jury trial. “That’s the same Ford that has complained in innumerable briefs and press releases about ‘runaway jury verdicts,’” said Plaintiffs’ lead counsel James E. “Jim” Butler, Jr.
“The Hill family is thankful to the jury for their verdict, and glad to get this phase of the litigation over with, finally,” Butler said. “An award of punitive damages to hopefully warn people riding around in the millions of those trucks Ford sold was the reason the Hill family insisted on a verdict.”
During the first trial Plaintiffs had submitted evidence of 69 prior similar wrecks with rollover, roof crush, and killed or injured victims. In the four years since Ford caused the mistrial in 2018 more people were killed or injured in such wrecks, and at the second trial Plaintiffs submitted evidence of 10 more such wrecks. Ford declined to say how many more other similar incidents were known to Ford.
“More deaths and severe injuries are certain,” said Butler’s co-counsel Gerald Davidson, “because millions of these trucks are on the road.”
Plaintiffs’ legal team included, in addition to Butler and Davidson, Mike Terry and Laurie Ann Taylor of Bondurant Mixson & Elmore, Dan Philyaw of Butler Prather, and paralegals Kim McCallister and Sarah Andrews plus investigator Nick Giles, all of the Butler Prather firm.
This is the largest verdict by far in Georgia history – eclipsing the previous verdict of $457 million in the Six Flags case 24 years ago. Butler, Davidson, and Terry were all Plaintiff’s counsel in that case as well.
Ford was represented by William Withrow of Troutman Pepper, Mike Boorman and Phillip Henderson of Watson Spence, Paul Malek of the Huie firm from Birmingham, and Michael Eady of Texas. Other Ford lawyers who had been present at the first trial in 2018 did not make an appearance at the second trial.
For More Information
- August 22, 2022: Ford claims “verdict not supported by the evidence.” A detailed 5-page rebuttal of this claim (PDF Download).
- “James Butler & Ford’s $1.7 Billion Legal Reckoning” (featured article on Starkman Approved.)
- Litigator of the Week: The Georgia Lawyer Who Hit Ford With a $1.7 Billion Product Liability Verdict (PDF Download).