Driver falls asleep: jury blames Ford to tune of $61M

by Ted Frank on November 17, 2005

In 1997, Melahn Parker fell asleep while driving a 1996 Ford Explorer at highway speeds; the SUV crashed, killing 17-year-old passenger Lance Crossman Hall, who was ejected because he was reclining in the front seat, thus preventing his seat-belt from restraining him. Parker was charged with careless driving, but a Miami jury viewed the accident as Ford’s fault, and awarded $61 million in damages yesterday, $60 million in pain and suffering. The plaintiff, Joan Hall-Edwards’s, Hall’s mother, has thus won a marvelous windfall in that her son was killed by a careless driver instead of by a means where she would have no deep pocket to seek lottery-style damages.

Ford will appeal. “This tragic accident occurred when the driver of the vehicle fell asleep at the wheel while traveling at highway speeds. Real-world experience and testing show that the Explorer is a safe vehicle, consistently performing as well as or better than other vehicles in its class,” Ford spokeswoman Karen Shaughnessy said.

Hall-Edwards’s attorney was Bruce Kaster, who complained that Ford blamed defective Firestone tires for what he called Explorer handling problems. This is a curious complaint, because Kaster calls himself “the nation’s foremost authority on tires and their defects,” has brought several lawsuits against Firestone, and has reserved the domain name “tirefailures.com” for his law firm. On his site, Kasten complains that Ford models don’t have the same features as the more expensive Volvo models made by Ford’s subsidiary. Is it really to be considered a “defect” if an inexpensive car has fewer safety features than a more expensive car? Are consumers not permitted to make the decision for themselves how safe a car to purchase?

No doubt there will be further details than what the AP has provided so far, and we’ll update as more becomes known. (Jennifer Kay, “Ford Ordered to Pay $61M in SUV Accident “, AP, Nov. 16).

{ 14 comments }

1 Jerry Kasmer 11.17.05 at 9:02 am

I thinik it’s ironic that these same jurors are also probibly some of the same people complaining about high auto prices.Wake up America

2 Bruce 11.17.05 at 9:53 am

Overlawyered, I don’t know how you stay sane collecting absurd results like this everyday. It’s maddening to see some of these cases.

3 Deoxy 11.17.05 at 11:43 am

I’m an avid and regular reader of your site, and this one really is the worst I’ve seen in a long time. I thought I was sufficiently jaded to handle what I read here, but this is just too much.

4 What Attitude Problem? 11.17.05 at 12:10 pm

Just… stuff. Thass all.

I love America. Driver falls asleep. Jury blames Ford to tune of $61M. Ford will appeal. Duh. War is hell. But this is cool. Pyromaniac and Cerulean Sanctum have a differenence of opinion. This one’s only for those who like

5 dweeb 11.17.05 at 12:54 pm

About those Explorer stability problems – Car & Driver took an Explorer from the same model year as most of the crashed ones, rigged the same tire as in most of the crashes to blow by remote control, and tested. At 70 mph, after that tire blew, they were able to bring the Explorer to a complete stop in under 400 ft.,under hard braking, without leaving its lane, and WITH BOTH HANDS OFF THE STEERING WHEEL!

6 John 11.17.05 at 3:02 pm

I’m not an attorney, but I have a question. I drive a Dodge Intrepid. I’ve noticed the past few times I’ve fallen asleep and then woke up when I went off the road, I have some steering problems. Can I file a pre-emptive suit vs. Daimler Chrysler? Or do I have to wait till I seriously maim or kill myself or passengers to do so?

7 The Other Brief 11.17.05 at 3:46 pm

Why are jurors consistently so stupid?

8 J.T. Wenting 11.18.05 at 3:11 am

John, my understanding of the US tort system (IANAL either) is that you can file against anyone for any reason and if you have a decent lawyer stand a good chance to win.
Do NOT file in Germany against Daimler Benz though as it won’t work there.

TOB, the jurors don’t want to set a precedent that such cases cannot be won because they may well have an opportunity to start such a case themselves at some point.
Thus the system is self-perpetuating.

9 Strider 11.18.05 at 11:17 am

There is something missing here. What do tires have to do with falling asleep at the wheel. Are you saying that the lawyer successfully argued that better tires would have saved the _sleeping_ driver from having an accident?

I’m not saying it’s you leaving something out, but there is some part of this story that we’re not hearing.

10 Ted 11.18.05 at 11:26 am

The plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that, if the Explorer handled better, the driver wouldn’t have lost control when he (allegedly) woke up as the vehicle went off the road.

Hall presented evidence that Ford engineers made suggestions on how to make the vehicle handle better—cherry-picking, since even the best vehicles can be designed to handle better and prevent some accidents at the margin. There’s just a tradeoff in doing so. Parker didn’t buy a vehicle that handled as well as a sportscar, presumably because he preferred having the benefits of an SUV, including a vehicle that his friend could recline in.

(By the way, don’t recline in a moving vehicle. It completely defeats the purpose of wearing a seatbelt.)

11 Deoxy 11.21.05 at 11:11 am

“Why are jurors consistently so stupid?”

With any lawyer worth his pay, stupidity becomes part of the juror job requirement. That’s what lawyers want (easier to manipulate, etc, which makes it into a contest of lawyers to see who is the best juror manipulator instead of a decision of law), and the current jury selection system in this country makes it trivially easy to exclude almost anyone you don’t want.

12 Overlawyered 11.21.05 at 2:57 pm

Another Florida driver falls asleep

Amazingly, our Nov. 17 report wasn’t even the first time this year a Florida jury held Ford liable for millions because a driver fell asleep. 28-year-old Tami Martin was a passenger in her mother’s Ford…

13 Nathan S. Lord 11.28.05 at 6:19 pm

So many Americans are extraordinarily generous–with other peoples’ money.

14 Overlawyered 01.17.06 at 10:00 pm

“2005′s Top Ten Jury Verdicts”

The new WSJ Law Blog summarizes (Jan. 16) Lawyers Weekly’s annual compilation of cases. As Lawyers Weekly tells it, the top verdicts this year were both somewhat lower and more closely linked to actual damages…

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