We settled a case with Ford Motor Company last month on behalf of Brad and Cindy Freeman of Yulee, Florida. Brad and Cindy, along with their niece, were returning home from visiting relatives and were traveling through St. Clair County, Alabama, on I-20. Brad was driving a 2001 Lincoln LS vehicle which was a new design sold by Ford. There was a comparable vehicle sold by Jaguar. As they were driving along the Interstate highway, there was a loud pop and the car pulled hard to the left. Brad was trying to correct the path of the vehicle when it went off the road and hit a concrete ditch.
When the car struck the ditch, Brad’s seat bottomed out and he suffered a burst fracture in his lower spine. The car was traveling about 70 mph when Brad and others heard the sound. Both Brad and Cindy thought there was a tire explosion. But, in actuality the left front ball joint of the car broke. The reason the vehicle went off the road was because the left front tire and wheel came loose when the ball joint fractured. After the ball joint fractured, it severed the steering control arm so that Brad had no effective steering. It also severed the brake line which eliminated the use of front brakes on the vehicle. The ball joint broke because it was defective. There was a recall on this vehicle because the ball joint was not properly tightened at the factory. In addition there were design defects in that the ball joint, so that even if it was properly tightened, the joint still was not sufficiently strong for the application.
Ford contends that on this vehicle the recall had been performed and the ball joint was properly tightened. But we would have proved at trial that simply tightening the ball joint nut wouldn’t solve the problem. Interestingly, Ford increased the size and strength of the ball joint stud for later model vehicles. There had been a great number of complaints by people with the same vehicle having similar problems that were not in the recall population. This means there was more than just a problem with the tightening of the ball joint.
We asked Ford to produce all the documents involving the analysis of the problem including the documents which support the recall. For some reason Ford overlooked the critical documents in producing their recall documents. By filing a subpoena in Michigan, we were successful in getting documents from Lemforder, the manufacturer of the ball joint. The two critical documents from Lemforder revealed the problems resulting in the defective ball joint and also that the recall was going to be inadequate.
As we investigated the case, we determined that this car had been subject to a recall for having loose ball joints. Ford recalled 88,000 cars. A further investigation, however, revealed that Brad’s car had actually been recalled and the ball joints tightened down in accordance with the recall. We were able to find the engineer, who is no longer with Ford and who actually designed the system for Ford. He admitted that the product was defective, but said it was a manufacturing defect. We later learned that Ford had actually increased the size of the ball joint. There have been many complaints of these ball joints breaking, even after the recall. Ford took the position that the wheel broke off when it hit the concrete ditch, however, the forensic investigation showed otherwise.
Brad was paralyzed for a time and continues to have significant difficulty. Fortunately, he is now walking, but will have to use dual canes. The life care plan and lost earning capacity for Brad Freeman was $2,022,739 in present day value. His medical expenses to date are $241,309.32. The case was settled after a mediation session before Mike Maddox. The case was scheduled to go to trial on October 19th. Greg Allen from our firm handled this case, along with Dell Cross from Tuscaloosa, and Erby J. Fischer from Birmingham. They did an outstanding job for the clients in this case.
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