The family of an elderly couple killed when the roof of their F-250 pickup collapsed during a rollover accident in 2014 has been awarded a massive $1.7 billion in punitive damages from Ford.
Evidence presented in the case showed that the F-250 pickups made in the 17 model years prior to 2017 all pose a risk to drivers and passengers in cases of a rollover, said Jim Butler Jr., the attorney who won the verdict. He said 5.2 million trucks have been built with the same faulty roof.
The punitive damages were awarded because Ford knew well in advance of the 2014 crash that it had a problem with the roof, Butler said. He said Ford's engineers had already designed a safer roof, but the automaker did not move immediately to install it on the trucks.
"Long before the Hills were killed, Ford was on notice from their own engineers, own crash tests and dozens of accidents that people were being killed, and it did nothing," Butler said.
Ford would not comment on Butler's statement that the older F-150's and F-250's have similar roofs at danger of collapse. It did say it intends to appeal the huge verdict.
For years the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration had exempted heavy-duty trucks like the F-250 from the same safety standards as passenger cars and trucks. But Butler said that didn't make a difference in this case.
And it wasn't a change in the NHTSA standard, but potential pickup buyers doing research on the vehicle's safety record that finally prompted Ford to put a stronger roof on both the F-150 and F-250, according to Butler.
Butler conceded that the $1.7 billion verdict is likely to be reduced on appeal, but he's hoping it serves as a wake-up call to both automakers and pickup truck owners.
If punitive damages are upheld by higher courts, the Hill family and their attorneys will only get 25% of the award amount. Under Georgia law, the state gets 75% of the awards granted by the courts. The only way the plaintiffs would get the full amount of punitive damages is if there is a settlement reached between the two sides, Butler said.