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).