Our Sacramento car accident lawyer was please to read that a Sacramento jury spoke loudly against companies withholding safety information and applied California corporate negligence law when it imposed a $73 million penalty on Ford Motor Company on Thursday November 10, 2011. The verdict, reported in the Sacramento Bee is an example of the legal system operating to protect our citizens from corporations that may put their bottom lines over the public welfare.
The case against Ford arose out of a crash that killed two and injured two others. The victims were travelling in a van after performing as members of a church musical group. William Brownell, the driver of the van, and front-seat passenger Tony Mauro were killed when the van skidded and flipped three times as the vehicle entered Highway 9. Testimony indicated that the accident was the result of tread separation on the van’s Goodyear tires. Although Goodyear had informed Ford of the defect two years prior, Ford did not share this information with vehicle owners, perhaps because the company was still dealing with the financial fallout from a prior $2 billion tire recall.
The verdict, believed by reporters to be the largest of its kind, is in addition to specific awards to the families of the deceased and to two others injured in the crash. The jury used California comparative negligence law to find that 59% of the fault fell on Ford Motors and this calculation did impact the injury and wrongful death awards. The reported testimony suggests that the two individuals who died in the crash were not wearing their seatbelts. While at one time a finding that the victims shared some fault might have entirely eliminated the potential for recovery on injury and wrongful death claims, the law now weighs the different factors involved and determines the degree of fault for all involved parties. The negligence of a victim can result in a reduced award but it no longer eliminates it entirely.
However, the reduction does not apply to the $73 million in punitive damages. This type of penalty is allowed under California Civil Code Section 3294 in certain cases when the evidence shows malice, oppression, or fraud by the defendant and is intended to punish the defendant and make an example of their poor actions. This Sacramento car accident lawsuit verdict serves to warn companies that they cannot act with disregard for human lives and public safety. Clearly, the jury felt that Ford knowingly withheld the recall information from the public, likely in order to protect the company’s reputation and profits, and that this blatant disregard for public safety was a key factor in the crash at issue. The verdict punishes Ford for this decision and warns other companies that similar actions will not be tolerated by the state of California.
Our Sacramento car crash lawyer knows that Ford Motor Company will likely appeal the verdict and it is not unusual for large punitive awards from a jury to later be reduced by the court. Nonetheless, the case is a reminder that California law takes it very seriously when a company disregards its responsibilities and puts profits above public welfare. If you or a loved one was injured as a result of a company’s negligence, such as the failure to notify customers of a potential danger, it is vital that you contact a skilled Sacramento personal injury attorney. At the Brod Law Firm, our Sacramento injury attorneys can assist you with these and similar claims. We are experienced in addressing corporate negligence, as well as claims due to defective products themselves, which fall under a special legal framework. While no verdict can bring back the deceased or fully compensate the injured, we believe in fighting for our clients to ensure they recover any funds to which they entitled and to hold companies responsible for their actions.
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