Ford Motor Co. has said it will appeal a verdict ordering it to pay $1.7 billion in damages over a 2014 pickup crash that left a Georgia couple dead.
Melvin and Voncile Hill died in April 2014 after their 2002 Ford F-250 rolled over. In their wrongful death case against the automaker, the couple's children, Kim and Adam Hill, alleged that dangerously defective roofs on the company's pickup trucks were responsible for their parents' deaths.
On Friday, jurors in Gwinnett County, northeast of Atlanta, returned a verdict in their favor in the yearslong civil case, imposing $1.7 billion in punitive damages against Ford, attorneys for the Hill family said in a news release.
The day before the verdict was delivered, the jury had awarded the Hill family $24 million in compensatory damages, said the release from Butler Prather LLP. The attorneys said 30 percent of the blame for the deadly 2014 incident had been allocated to Pep Boys, an automotive service chain that "mistakenly installed the wrong size, or 'load range' tires on the Hills' truck in 2010."
"That mistake caused the right front tire to blow out, causing the wreck," the news release said. However, it said, evidence at the trial "showed the wreck was survivable, and the crushing of the roof caused the injuries that led to the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Hill."
“The Hill family is thankful to the jury for their verdict, and glad to get this phase of the litigation over with, finally,” James Butler Jr., a lawyer representing the family, said in a statement.
“An award of punitive damages to hopefully warn people riding around in the millions of those trucks Ford sold was the reason the Hill family insisted on a verdict," Butler said.
A spokesperson said in a statement that Ford would appeal the verdict.
“While our sympathies go out to the Hill family, we don't believe the verdict is supported by the evidence, and we plan to appeal,” the spokesperson said.
In his closing arguments, defense lawyer William Withrow Jr. rejected accusations that Ford and its engineers had "acted willfully and wantonly, with a conscious indifference for the safety of the people who ride in their cars," when they made decisions about roof strength, according to a court transcript.
The allegation that Ford was irresponsible and willfully made decisions that put customers at risk is “simply not the case,” another defense lawyer, Paul Malek, said in closing arguments.
During the trial, lawyers for the plaintiffs submitted evidence of nearly 80 similar rollover wrecks involving truck roofs’ being crushed or killing motorists, Butler’s law firm said in a statement.
Butler’s co-counsel, Gerald Davidson, alleged in a statement: “More deaths and severe injuries are certain because millions of these trucks are on the road.”