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Snell & Wilmer Defends Ford Explorer Sport Trac Roof and Safety Canopy® System in California Federal Court Trial

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Snell & Wilmer attorneys Dan Rodman, Jay Schuttert and Jonathan Murphy recently represented Ford Motor Company in the trial of a 2002 Ford Explorer Sport Trac rollover lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, in downtown Los Angeles, California, case no. 2:12-cv-10994-PAAGR. Paralegal Maribel Lopez and paralegal assistant Amanda Jamil assisted with Ford’s defense.

Fiailoa Edwards, the seatbelted driver of a 2002 Ford Explorer Sport Trac truck, received fatal injuries when he was partially ejected during a crash on Interstate 5 near Fresno, California in 2011. His heirs claimed the truck’s roof was defective because it deformed in the accident, and that Ford should have equipped the truck with Ford’s industry first Safety Canopy® rollover activated side curtain airbag system, which Plaintiffs claimed would have prevented Mr. Edwards’s partial ejection and death.

Mr. Edwards, a boilermaker, was returning to his home in Los Angeles from a job in the Bay Area, when he failed to notice slowing traffic ahead of him and swerved his Sport Trac off the side of the freeway, where it rolled over 3¾ times. At trial, plaintiffs asked the jury to award them nearly $8 million.

Ford denied that the 2002 Sport Trac’s roof was defective and defended on the basis that this crash was in the uppermost severity of all rollover accidents. Ford established that the roof far exceeded applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for roof strength but the roof was simply overwhelmed by the severity of the accident. Ford also showed that Mr. Edwards’s fatal injury was due to his head extending beyond the plane of the open driver’s side window during the crash as a result of the extreme forces experienced in the accident, and not due to any roof crush that occurred, and that Mr. Edwards’s partial ejection would have occurred even in the absence of any roof crush. Ford also showed that, although it was first in the automotive industry to develop a vehicle with rollover activated side curtain airbags, the testing for the Safety Canopy® had not yet been completed at the time Mr. Edwards’s Sport Trac was built.

On March 5, 2015, the jury returned a unanimous verdict after less than 90 minutes of deliberations.