Couple Settles Ford
Explorer Rollover Lawsuit- Jury Finds Ford's most popular SUV the Explorer
was Defectively Designed
A California couple seriously
injured when their 1994 Ford Explorer rolled over in the California desert
have settled their lawsuit for a total of $14.9 million, including $9.4
million against the dealer that sold them the sport utility vehicle.
The personal injury
settlement by Agop and Catherine Gozukara came four days after a jury
in the desert town of Barstow reached a verdict that their Explorer was
defective by design and held the dealership, the state of California and
a road construction company -- but not Ford Motor Co. -- liable for the
The jury reached
that verdict after finding the accident was caused by faulty repair work
and not the Explorer's design problems, which they said included a high
center of gravity, narrow width and faulty suspension that allegedly combined
to make it vulnerable to rollover problems.
The case threatens
to put Ford back at the center of a new public relations nightmare over
the Explorer, the company's best-selling sports utility vehicle. Catherine
Gozukara, who was pregnant at the time of the 1997 accident, lost her
baby and was left paralyzed. Agop Gozukara, her husband, suffered severe
injuries to both legs. Neither were wearing seat belts at the time, Ford
Ford has struggled
with safety issues related to the Explorer since August of 2000, when
Japanese tire maker Bridgestone Corp said it would recall 6.5 million
Firestone tires fitted mainly on Explorer vehicles.
The automaker, in
high-profile feud that ended a nearly century-old partnership with Firestone,
later said it would replace all 13 million Firestone Wilderness AT tires
on its vehicles because of "substantial failure risk."
Federal safety regulators
are due to rule in the coming weeks about whether Ford Explorers manufactured
from 1991 to 2000 will be investigated for design flaws at the urging
of Firestone. The two companies face a massive class action lawsuit in
Indiana from accident claims.
SAFETY INVESTIGATION POSSIBLE -NHTSA TO INVESTIGATE THE EXPLORER
The National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration has investigated similar claims before,
but has never ruled a vehicle was defective in design and such a ruling
against Ford would send shock waves through the auto industry, analysts
have said. Ford said after the verdict that Barstow jurors had placed
fault with the dealer and had absolved the automaker of responsibility.
The attorney for the Gozukaras, said that, while Ford was not held liable
for damages in the case, the jury still found for the first time in a
product liability case that the Explorer was defective.
verdict means is that its very clear now that the Ford Explorer as it
is designed is defective and has a high propensity to roll over,"
he said. "We just hope this helps other people who are similarly
The settlement was reached as both sides prepared to start a second phase
of the trial to determine the amount of damages.
Agop Gozukara told
Reuters following the settlement he was very pleased with having the case
resolved and said the money will allow him to better care for his wife,
who requires special medical equipment and transportation. "They
are ecstatic," Mardirossian said. "They are relieved that they
don't have to relive the accident again. They don't have to talk about
their injuries (in front of a jury)."
The Gozukaras bought
the used Explorer in 1997 from Joe MacPherson Ford in Tustin, California.
Joe MacPherson Ford
is owned by Fort Lauderdale, Florida- based AutoNation Inc., the nation's
largest car dealership chain. AutoNation acquired the Tustin, California
dealership in February 1999, about two years after the accident.
absolutely no liability and were not involved in the case," said
Marc Cannon, a spokesman for AutoNation. Attorneys for MacPherson Ford
could not be immediately reached for comment.
According to the Gozukara's lawsuit, their Ford Explorer began vibrating
immediately after they purchased it in 1997 and repeated trips to the
dealership failed to correct the problem.
Three months after buying the car, the lawsuit said, the couple was on
a trip to Las Vegas with their young children and a relative when the
Explorer veered into a freeway wall and rolled over.