Ford Motor Company’s stock slid about 5% this week after the automaker was hit with a $1.7 billion jury verdict in a wrongful death suit resulting from a fatal rollover accident in 2014. A Gwinnett Georgia County jury unanimously approved of the billion-dollar verdict, the largest in state history. 

In 2014, Voncile Hill, 62, and her husband Melvin Hill, 74, were killed after a tire blew out on their 2002 Ford Super Duty F-250 pickup, causing the vehicle to rollover on a Georgia highway. The family of the victims blamed the roof of the couple’s pickup truck for their deaths. The vehicle’s roof collapsed onto the victims following the rollover collision.

A spokesman for Ford told the Associated Press the following: “While our sympathies go out to the Hill family, we don’t believe the verdict is supported by the evidence, and we plan to appeal.” The automaker refuses any culpability in the incident. 

Ford Rollover Lawsuit

Ford allegedly knew about the design issues with a weak roof in its trucks since 1999 but declined to say how many similar accidents it is aware of. The automaker has also never issued a recall due to this problem. Ford has admitted, however, that it has been sued about 170 times for related accidents that have resulted in injuries and deaths. This roof design issue could potentially impact heavy-duty Ford vehicles from model years 1999-2016.

The Hill trial lasted about three weeks. In that time, attorneys submitted evidence of almost 80 similar accidents in which victims were killed or injured when the roofs of their trucks collapsed onto them during rollovers. They were ultimately able to prove to the jury that the 2014 rollover crash would have been survivable had it not been for defects in the roof’s design. 

Ford Rollover Verdict

Three-quarters of the punitive damages included in this verdict go to the state of Georgia. Jurors awarded Kim and Adam Hill over $24 million for pain, suffering, and the wrongful deaths of Voncile and Melvin. The jury determined that Pep Boys was responsible for 30% of the total damages, for installing tires that were the incorrect size for the truck- resulting in the blowout. The rest of the blame was allocated to Ford, who is due to pay over $1.7 billion in damages, according to the Georgia verdict.

Jim Butler Jr., the attorney who represented Kim and Adam Hill, told CNN Business that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that F-250 pickups made before 2017 pose safety risks for all drivers and occupants in the event of a rollover crash. Butler says Ford knew of several similar roof-crush accidents both before and after the 2014 crash. He notes that in 2005, the auto company’s engineers had developed a much sturdier roof that the company refused to use on Super Duty models for years. Butler says that at least 5 million Super Duty trucks have been built with the same defective roof design since then. He claims that the roofs on these vehicles are so weak that “you might as well drive a convertible.”

Despite multiple lawsuits and questions regarding its design decisions, Ford says that none of this rises to the level of misconduct that would result in punitive damages. They insist that all their design choices are always based on driver safety. In his closing arguments, Ford’s defense lawyer William Winthrow Jr. argued that the “evidence will show that Ford spent a lot more money developing and implementing other technologies to improve safety.” Following the trial, Ford has continued to deny any wrongdoing in the Hill’s death. 

Heavy-Duty Pickups Regularly Fail to Meet Safety Standards for Rollover Vehicle Crashes

This 2014 incident and others that have followed bring attention to a discrepancy in safety requirements for heavy vehicles. Several heavy-duty pickup models from manufacturers like Ford and Chevrolet do not meet the highway safety standards set forth by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which could have serious consequences as vehicle age increases.

In 2009, NHTSA revised its safety standards that outlined how much weight vehicles must be able to withstand during rollover crashes. The agency said that vehicles weighing up to 6,000 pounds must withstand up to three times vehicle weight. This same roof-crush standard was not applied to vehicles weighing 7,000 to 10,000 pounds.

Heavier vehicles only had to withstand one-and-a-half times vehicle weight. A vehicle that weighs 6,000 pounds must withstand 18,000 pounds in a rollover accident while a 7,000-pound vehicle only must withstand 10,500 pounds. In 2010, NHTSA said that there weren’t enough heavy-duty vehicles on U.S. roads to justify applying the same roof-crush standard. That may not be the case in 2022 however, as Ford has sold over 700,000 F-250 pickups in 2021 alone.

Automotive experts say that many drivers are using cars that do not meet this NHSTA safety standard from years ago. Additionally, heavier vehicles have been able to circumvent the safety requirements placed on lighter vehicles. The heaviest vehicle in NHTSA’s range, weighing up to 10,000 pounds has a lighter weight requirement (15,000 pounds) than what is mandated in a vehicle that weighs 6,000 pounds (18,000 pounds).

NHTSA has largely ignored warnings from safety advocates who state that the roof-crush standard should be the same, regardless of weight. The agency says that the cost of building stronger roofs on heavy-duty vehicles would outweigh any benefits. A stronger roof, however, could have made all the difference in the truck accident that took the lives of Voncille and Melvin Hill.

The Experts in California and Ford Lemon Law

Ford is refusing any responsibility in this case, despite multiple reports of injuries and deaths resulting from defective roof design in rollover crashes. Additionally, they do not appear to be in any rush to help customers who have experienced problems with their vehicles in rollover incidents.  Luckily, there may be legal recourse available for drivers with similar cases.  

Structural issues such as faulty roof design may be covered under California state lemon law. The following are common lemon issues in Ford pickups: 

  • Griding noises in engine 
  • Engine failure
  • Transmission failure
  • Malfunctional steering
  • Shuddering
  • Stalling
  • Noisy suspension
  • Fluid leaks 
  • Gear shifting problems
  • Ford death wobble

If you purchased or leased a Ford heavy-duty pickup or other vehicle in California and have repeatedly repaired your vehicle,  you should speak with the Lemon Law Experts to explore your options to get a refund or replacement vehicle. Through a free case evaluation, we can help you determine what you are eligible for a lemon law claim. If your vehicle is determined to be a lemon, you could be eligible to receive a replacement vehicle, cash compensation, or a refund. 

As the prevailing party, the manufacturer covers all legal fees and costs associated with your lemon law claim, so your attorneys do not get paid unless you win.

The California Lemon Law Experts have recovered millions in damages for clients across California as one of the state’s leading lemon law firms. Our attorneys regularly win cases against large automakers like Ford. When you’re going up against Ford or some other large company, you should have experienced and successful legal representation. If you want to learn more about what your recovery could look like, call us or fill out an online form today.