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Rick Shapiro
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Tragedy Results When Companies Fail to Alert Customers About Product Recalls

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As a personal injury attorney with offices in Virginia Beach, VA, I rarely pay attention to legal proceedings in California (CA). But I couldn't help taking note of a $73 million jury award to three plaintiffs who had filed related wrongful death and injury lawsuits against Ford Motor Company. The plaintiffs had lost a loved one and been hurt in a 2004 van rollover accident caused by a tire blowout.

At issue in the civil case heard in Sacramento, CA, was whether Ford had done enough to inform owners of the company's Econoline 15-passenger vans about defective and dangerous Goodyear tires that had been installed on the vehicles at the factory. The problem with the 4-ply tires was that the outer treads could detach and make the tires unstable. Goodyear and the National Transportation Safety Board knew about the danger as early as the late 1990s, and the tire manufacturer launched a free replacement program in 2002. Goodyear even went so far as to request a list of Econoline owners from Ford so those people could receive safer 6-ply tires.

Evidence presented by the Dreyer Babich Buccola and Wood law firm during trial showed that Ford never responded to Goodyear, that the van carrying members of a church choir was equipped with the recalled tires and that Ford acted "despicably" in neither alerting at-risks drivers and passengers or doing anything to make people safer. As attorney Roger Dreyer told the press, "A manufacturer cannot have information that deals with the very fabric of human life, of being alive or being dead, and keep that information to themselves. When corporate arrogance is so clearly palpable in a case like this, there is no excuse for them not providing that information."

Around $50 million of the jury's award to the plaintiffs represent punitive damages against Ford. As large as that figure seems, it strikes me as barely enough to put multibillion international corporations on notice that the must identify and repair or replace defective products as quickly and completely as possible. Fighting product liability lawsuits — as Ford did here for 7 years, largely by arguing that the injured and killed victims were responsible because they had misused seat belts — and paying judgments often represents much smaller costs than recalls. Still, I congratulate my fellow plaintiffs' attorneys for achieving some justice and holding Ford accountable.

EJL

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.