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Court awards $57M payout for injuries from runaway Ford Expedition

Breana Noble, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

A federal court this spring directed Ford Motor Co. to pay almost $57 million after a jury found the Dearborn automaker responsible for injuries from a 1998 Expedition SUV that backed over her left leg.

The company is challenging the verdict, whose assigned damages would put it among some of the largest personal injury payouts in U.S. history. The case almost never made it to trial.

Lorelle Thompson in 2016 sustained fractures to her tibia and fibula bones after exiting her vehicle to go to her mailbox. Thompson slipped as she stepped out, her left leg falling behind the driver's-side front wheel when her parked Expedition "self-shifted into powered reverse and began to roll backwards," according to the complaint that was originally filed in 2018.

The vehicle crushed her left leg, requiring surgeries, physical therapy and temporary uses of a wheelchair and walker. Thompson, according to the complaint, now frequently uses a cane, has a limp and experiences pain in her leg.

An eight-member jury in the trial overseen by U.S. Colorado District Court Judge Maritza Dominguez Braswell determined Ford was liable for and negligent with a design defect in the vehicle. It awarded Thompson $56.575 million, including $45 million in punitive damages.

 

"While our sympathies go out to Ms. Thompson and we respect the jury’s decision, we do not believe the verdict is supported by the evidence," according to a statement sent by spokesperson Richard Binhammer. "We have filed post-verdict motions that are currently pending before the court."

The lawsuit alleged the Expedition's shifter was defective and that Ford knew there was a problem dating to the 1980s. Ford denied the claims.

"Any injury or damage allegedly sustained by Plaintiff," Ford attorney Theresa Wardon Benz wrote in a response last year, "was caused solely by her own negligence in exiting a running vehicle while it was in Reverse, which Plaintiff admitted to Second responders while she was still under the stress of excitement caused by the incident."

The Colorado court originally dismissed the case in 2019. After it granted a motion to reconsider, Ford successfully moved the case to Michigan. A motion to transfer the case back to Colorado, however, was granted in 2022 before a seven-day trial in April.


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