SAN DIEGO (CN) – A California appeals court upheld an $82.6 million damage award to a San Diego woman paralyzed in a Ford Explorer rollover accident. The court ruled that Ford Motor Co. had forfeited its right to fight the punitive damage award, which includes $55 million to Benetta Buell-Wilson, whose back was crushed in the June 2002 accident.
Buell-Wilson claimed Ford was liable for Explorer design flaws – such as a high center of gravity, low wheelbase and weak roof – that greatly increased the chances of rollovers and injuries. Ford allegedly knew about the flaws but did nothing to fix them.
A jury in 2004 awarded Buell-Wilson and her husband $369 million, including $246 million in punitive damages. That amount was reduced to $150 million, and then cut to $82.6 million after Ford successfully appealed.
In May 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court asked the appeals court to reconsider its ruling in light of a Supreme Court decision that jurors can’t punish defendants for harm caused to third parties when determining a punitive-damage award.
In a 106-page ruling, the appeals court held its ground and concluded that “there was no ‘significant risk’ the jury punished Ford for harm to third parties.”