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SUV Rollover Victim Paralyzed – Ford Ordered to Pay Damages

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A New Jersey jury last week awarded $10.6 million in compensatory damages and $42,500 in punitive damages to a driver who became paralyzed in an accident caused by a defective throttle design in her 1997 Ford Explorer, according to an article in the New Jersey Law Journal posted on the Yahoo Business News Website.

The article also states that Ford Motor Co. may have been spared a monster punitive damages verdict in the SUV rollover case because its lawyer was allowed to tell jurors about the carmaker’s financial troubles and recent mass layoffs.

The lawsuit claimed that the 2000 accident was caused by a defective throttle design in the 1997 Ford Explorer that made its accelerator stick in the closed position. According to the lawsuit, when plaintiff Rebekah Zakrocki, then 21 years old, pressed hard on the gas as she was driving, the vehicle lurched forward. Panicked, she turned the wheel to the left, causing the vehicle to roll onto its roof.

The suit also charged that the “design of the vehicle’s suspension, brakes and geometry gave it a heightened propensity to tip over.” Zakrocki’s right hand was nearly severed in the crash, but doctors reattached it in surgery. She also suffered torn nerves in her brachial plexus, leaving her with only 10 percent use of her right arm, and she can no longer work as a cosmetics salesperson, the article said. After the four-week trial, the jury awarded $8.5 million for pain and suffering, $1.5 million for medical expenses and $1 million for lost wages.

However, the jury reduced the award by 28 percent, factoring in evidence that Zakrocki was speeding and not wearing a seatbelt. After those deductions, the woman will receive about $7 million in compensatory damages. The judge also did not allow the plaintiff’s attorney to present evidence to the jury about Ford’s recall of Explorers for throttle plate problems. Zakrocki received notice of the recall a few months after the crash. Ford plans to appeal the verdict, the article said.

Ford SUVs, especially the Explorer, have gained notoriety for their lack of stability and propensity to tip over. This case is no exception. At Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys, in dealing with numerous Explorer rollovers, we’ve found that these accidents result in serious injuries and death because when the vehicle rolls over the flimsy roof caves in and crushes the occupant of the car. This type of an accident results in horrible spinal cord injuries and paralysis.

We just this week settle a Ford Explorer “on road” rollover case with Ford. Our client’s left arm was “degloved” when the Explorer rolled over onto the driver’s side and slid along the roadway with his arm out the broken window. As is their custom, Ford required that the amount of the settlement be kept confidential.

It irks me to hear that the company escaped punitive damages with the lame excuse that they are having financial trouble. The reason they are having financial problems is because they have not kept pace with safety, reliability, dependability and economy issues as their competitors have. Their financial woes are of their own making.

If you or a loved one have been injured in a rollover accident or injured due to a defective vehicle, call me to discuss your rights and options. John Bisnar, 800-259-6373.

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