Product Liability / Fuel Tank / Trailer Hitch / Seatback / Door Design
September 3, 2017 - $13,000,000.00
Gibson v. Ford Motor Co., Draw-Tite, Inc. and Burns, State Court of Athens-Clarke County, Georgia. Autie Gibson sued Ford, Draw-Tite and Burns after Autie’s wife, Ann Marie Gibson, burned alive when her 1985 Ford Marquis was struck in the rear by the Burns vehicle. Mrs. Gibson’s Ford had a defective, “pinto-esque” bumper fuel tank located in the known rear crush zone. The bumper tank exploded when it was punctured by the sharp bolts on a defective, uncrashworthy Draw-Tite trailer hitch also on the Gibson vehicle and designed by Draw-Tite for that model. Mrs. Gibson’s Ford seatback was also defective. It failed by collapsing rearward in the crash, which dropped Mrs. Gibson’s head and upper torso into the flames initially located only in the back seat. The door system on the Ford was also defective: Mrs. Gibson’s doors were jammed shut, and could not be opened as a result of the impact. While rescuers at the scene attempted to un-jam the doors, Mrs. Gibson was trapped inside the burning car, screaming and frantically trying to extinguish the flames in her hair. According to the state crime lab autopsy, Mrs. Gibson died solely from the fire and smoke injuries she sustained while trapped in her burning car. The only injuries from the impact of the wreck itself were two bruises to her shins.
In a 4½ week trial, Plaintiffs proved Ford had known for years the dangers of the vulnerable fuel tank location and that both Ford and Draw-Tite knew the addition on this vehicle of a bumper trailer hitch with screws that could impact the tank in a crash made that design even more dangerous. Notwithstanding that knowledge, both Draw-Tite and Ford advertised this vehicle and hitch for towing and never warned a soul about the dangers.
The jury awarded $10 million for the full value of the life of Mrs. Gibson and $3 million for the pain and suffering from fire she experienced during the incident before her death. The verdict is believed to be the largest personal injury verdict in Athens-Clarke County history and the largest verdict against Ford in a fire case in Georgia.
Both Defendants Ford and Draw-Tite appealed the verdict. In a 7-0 opinion, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the verdict and judgment in its entirety. The judgment was then paid in full with interest.