A state appeals court in New Jersey has upheld an $8.3 million jury award against Ford Motor Co. and a Ford dealer in favor of a woman who lost most of the use of her right arm in a 2000 accident. Rebekah Zakrocki, who was 22 at the time, was traveling in a 1997 Ford Explorer on a public highway when its throttle became stuck, making the Explorer surge. She lost control of the SUV and it rolled over, crushing her arm, which was hanging out of the open sunroof. During the 2007 trial in a state court in New Brunswick, it was proved that sludge, which had built up on the throttle, amounted to a design defect. The jury found the plaintiff driver partially liable because she was not wearing her seat belt at the time of the accident.
The original verdict of $10.6 million in compensatory damages was reduced because of the Plaintiff’s share of the liability. The Defense lawyers claimed at trial that the Plaintiff was going 83 mph when the accident occurred. But, according to the Plaintiff, she was traveling at 73 mph. The jury rejected a related claim that the Explorer was unstable, causing it to roll over during the accident. Ford Motor Co.’s share of the compensatory damages is about $6.5 million. The jury awarded $42,000 in punitive damages, which the Plaintiff appealed. The three-judge panel also ruled against the Plaintiff on that issue in her appeal.
The jury’s finding that a defective throttle on a 1997 Ford Explorer caused the rollover accident that left Rebekah Zakrocki with a useless right arm was upheld. The crash nearly severed Ms. Zakrocki’s right hand and tore out the nerves connecting her spinal cord to her arm. She had 21 operations, including multiple muscle, vein, nerve and skin grafts.
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