Our firm recently settled a lawsuit against Ford Motor Co. that involved the roof on the 1991 Taurus which was insufficiently designed. The lack of the vehicle’s roof strength caused our client to suffer serious head injuries after his vehicle struck a cow on a dark road in a rural Alabama county. Of course, striking livestock and deer on rural Alabama roads is not uncommon. Fortunately, many vehicles that colide with large animals absorb the impact rather than failing like this Ford roof did on this occasion.
What we discovered during our investigation of this vehicle was tragic. First, we were disappointed to learn that Ford has not conducted a rollover test on any vehicle, including the Taurus, since 1974. In contrast, companies like Volvo, Mercedes, and Saab routinely conduct rollover testing, drop testing, and even large animal impact testing in an effort to determine how the roof structures in their vehicles perform with respect to occupant injury potential.
Then, we learned that our client’s case was not unique. Ford has previously been sued because other innocent victims were seriously injured or killed when a Ford roof collapsed after striking an animal. On one occasion, an eleven-year-old girl died while traveling as a passenger in a 1992 Ford Taurus. While the child was being taken to school, her mother was unable to avoid a horse. Upon impact, Ford’s weak roof collapsed, killing the young girl.
Because Ford had not conducted one single roof crush test on the Taurus, other than slowly pressing downward on a roof with a plate in order to meet the minimum federal requirement, we authorized our roof crush expert to conduct testing. It should be noted that the minimum federal requirement does not in any way represent what occurs in real world crashes. In an effort to recreate the forces involved in our accident, our roof crush expert constructed a cow dummy weighing 1800 pounds and impacted several different Ford Taurus roofs at various speeds until the damage profile in the accident vehicle was recreated. This enabled us to determine the amount of force experienced by the accident vehicle. Our roof crush expert then took a production Taurus and internally strengthened the existing roof support structures. He then impacted the reinforced vehicle with the cow dummy at the same speed and force that caused the damage to the accident vehicle. The results of his tests were astonishing. The cow dummy literally bounced off the reinforced vehicle. The roof crush in the accident vehicle was in excess of 16 inches. The roof crush in the reinforced Taurus was approximately one inch. Our client would have walked away from the accident had he been in the Taurus with a properly designed roof.
We were able to establish that strengthening the roof would have cost Ford approximately $22 per vehicle. Our roof crush expert pointed out this was much cheaper in cost and in weight than a luxury item such as a sun roof. We learned that the Ford Taurus did not meet Ford’s internal requirements for roof strength. We discovered that after the accident vehicle was manufactured, Ford further reduced its internal roof crush requirements. This too was surprising until we discovered an internal Ford memorandum. In that memo, the Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Ford urged Ford engineers “to reduce costs related to items designed to achieve or exceed compliance with regulatory requirements to as low a level as possible.” In essence, he was urging Ford engineers to design down to the lowest possible safety level which would still allow Ford to legally sell vehicles. This is another classic example of a company placing profits over safety. The case was settled just before jury selection for a confidential amount.Graham Esdale and Cole Portis from our firm and Robert Thompson from Tuskegee handled the case and did a very good job.
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