Jury Awards $22.5 Million In Punitive Damages in Ford Bronco II Case
HOUSTON (AP) _ Ford Motor Co. has spent more than $100 million to settle lawsuits for rollover accidents involving the Bronco II, but it maintains the vehicle is safe despite another potentially huge financial and legal setback.
Jurors ruled Thursday that Ford must pay $22.5 million in punitive damages to the parents of a Texas A&M University student killed in 1992 when her Bronco II overturned. It was the first time Ford has been found negligent in a Bronco II case.
``This jury has determined that this is a dangerous product,″ said Mike Kerensky, an attorney for 21-year-old Jennifer Cammack’s parents. ``It sent a loud message to the government, to the owners, and most of all to Ford Motor Co.″
Kerensky said he hoped the verdict in favor of Robert and Glenda Cammack would prompt the government to take action that would force Ford to recall Bronco IIs. But a spokesman for Ford defended the Bronco II.
``The Bronco II is a safe vehicle when driven with common sense and in accordance with safe driving practices,″ Ford spokesman Jon Harmon said. ``None of the six previous juries that have decided a Bronco II injury accident case have found any safety defect.″
Ford, which has paid $113.4 million to settle 334 personal damage suits involving rollovers, issued a statement saying it would appeal the decision in the Cammack case.
In any event, Thursday’s $22.5 million award was expected to be cut at least in half because jurors found the company did not act with malice.
Under current tort rules in Texas, punitive damages cannot exceed four times the actual damages amount in the absence of malice. The amount is now up to state District Judge Shearn Smith, who was expected to decide in the next few weeks.
Robert Cammack said he was satisfied with the outcome despite jurors’ decision that Ford did not act intentionally to harm its customers.
``We are very satisfied with the verdict,″ Robert Cammack said. ``We feel that justice has been served.″
On Wednesday, the same jury awarded $2.5 million in actual damages to the Cammacks.
Jurors determined that the Bronco II is unreasonably dangerous because it overturns too easily and that Ford was negligent in the vehicle’s design. Testimony showed that Jennifer Cammack’s Bronco II rolled over after blowing a tire.
But in its statement, Ford noted that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed an investigation after 1 1/2 years without finding any safety-related defect in the vehicle.
In March, a federal judge in New Orleans dissolved a class action case that would have kept all Bronco II owners who say the design isn’t safe in a single lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Morey L. Sear had appointed two attorneys to represent all 680,000 owners of the sport utility vehicle in settlement talks with Ford.
But Sear rejected a proposed settlement March 21, saying it gave owners little more than safety information that Ford had to send them anyway. The proposal involved giving each owner a safety kit, flashlight and cellular telephone.
Sport utility vehicles have a chassis high off the ground and a narrow wheel base, giving them a high center of gravity compared with other vehicles.
In 1992, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said the death rate in rollover accidents for the rear-wheel drive version of the Bronco II was double that for other sport utility vehicles studied.
The Bronco II line, which debuted in 1982, was discontinued in 1990 after Ford introduced the new Explorer line of utility vehicles.