A jury has awarded $4.65 million to the widow of a former Charleston area pharmacist who killed himself nearly one and a half years after he was in an automobile accident caused by a defective airbag. John Wickersham suffered serious injuries in the crash. His wife sued Ford Motor Co. over the defective airbag, contending that pain from the injuries her husband suffered led him to take his life. Ford claimed Wickersham had a long history of depression and suicidal thoughts and that his death was unrelated to the accident. During the trial, Ford typically tried to blame the driver. For example, the automaker said the airbag injuries occurred because Wickersham was not seated properly in the vehicle, with his head too close to the steering wheel at impact.
Ronnie Crosby, a lawyer for the widow, Crystal Wickersham, said a data download from the vehicle’s “black box” proved the airbag deployed late, allowing John Wickersham to move dangerously close to the steering wheel at the time it deployed. Crosby said further:
Ford’s claim of scientific evidence to the contrary was refuted at trial and obviously rejected by the jury. The airbag shouldn’t have deployed at all in the low-speed crash. We had two very different versions of what happened and the jury simply did not believe what Ford tried to sell.
The federal court jury determined that while Wickersham’s mental history contributed to his suicide, Ford’s wrongful conduct was overwhelmingly to blame for his death. The jury’s award includes actual damages to compensate his wife and the couple’s four grown children for his wrongful death, but the jury did not award punitive damages. The jurors didn’t find clear and convincing evidence that Ford acted recklessly or maliciously. The lawsuit against Ford was filed in 2013 in state court and was removed to federal court.
Wickersham was returning to Charleston after working a night shift at a hospital on Feb. 3, 2011, when he lost control of the 2010 Ford Escape he was driving. The vehicle went through an intersection, hit a curb and then struck a tree on the front passenger side. The vehicle’s airbag deployed late, causing serious and permanent facial injuries to Wickersham, who was wearing a seat belt at the time.
Testimony at trial revealed that Wickersham, who underwent numerous surgeries, “felt like he looked like a monster and was very self-conscious about his disfigurement as a result of the accident.” A neuropsychologist testified that “the accident certainly caused a significant degree of pain, far more than (Wickersham) was able to cope with.” Unable to work because of the pain, Wickersham, who was 55 years old, committed suicide on July 21, 2012, by swallowing a lethal dose of pills. Ford says it will appeal the verdict.
Source: Post & Courier
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