Posted on Mar 22, 2006
Faulting Ford and parts maker, jury awards crash victim $26.2M
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
By JOHN PETRICK
A jury has awarded $26.2 million to a motorist who crashed into, and went under, a flatbed truck on Route 46 in Little Falls, finding the Ford Motor Co. and a parts manufacturer at fault for product liability.
At issue was an "under-ride guard" installed and designed to prevent vehicles from becoming lodged underneath certain trucks when colliding with them from behind.
The jury found in favor of the plaintiff, Pennsylvania resident Michael Boyle, who sued Ford and Garden State Engine and Equipment of Somerville after the guard snapped off on impact, according to lawyer John North.
"Our client was somehow not decapitated but had massive injuries to the head," North said. "The car went all the way underneath ... The hood and passenger compartment of the car were sheered off. The hood was in the back seat."
Boyle, who was 22 at the time of the Jan. 10, 2002, accident, was commuting from home to his job as an ironworker in New York City when his 1994 Ford Taurus ran into the back of the 1998 Ford F-800 truck.
His face was dislocated from his skull and he sustained injuries to the frontal lobe of his brain. His face was rebuilt using about 40 titanium plates, according to North, but his injuries continue to result in double vision, no sense of smell or taste, no feeling from his upper lip to the top of his head and increased processing time to think.
Boyle, now 25, sued Ford, designer of the truck's cab and chassis, for not including an under-ride guard or instructions for how one should be attached to the frame of the vehicle.
Federal safety rules currently do not require the manufacturer to include the guard or provide such instructions when producing what is known as "incomplete chassis cab vehicles," which the F-800 was.
Such vehicles are converted by final-stage manufacturers for a variety of uses. In this case, the truck was converted by Garden State to carry a boom on the flatbed, and an under-ride guard was installed at that time.
Boyle also sued Garden State Engine and Equipment for installing a guard that North said was "poorly designed and doomed to fail."
The jury, which returned its verdict late Monday before Superior Court Judge Christine L. Miniman in Paterson, attributed 70 percent of the liability to Ford and 30 percent to Garden State. Lawyers for Garden State did not return a call seeking comment. A lawyer representing Ford in the four-week-long trial declined comment, but deferred to a Ford spokeswoman.
"Our concern goes out to Mr. Boyle, but he was the sole cause of this accident and his injuries," spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes said. "Driving at approximately 60 mph, he plowed into the back of an F-800 truck. An eyewitness said Boyle's lights were off and he made no attempt to brake. ... Before filing this lawsuit, he pleaded guilty to an unsafe driving charge in connection with this accident. However, the trial court did not permit Ford to bring up this guilty plea at the trial.
"The incomplete chassis cab sold by Ford complied with all applicable regulations when it left Ford's possession," she said. Ford plans to appeal.
North acknowledged that his client had pleaded guilty to the unsafe driving charge, but said the case was about faulty equipment, not Boyle's driving. North said his client is no longer employed as an ironworker but now works for his father's fireplace business.