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Jury terms Ford's actions 'despicable' in tire case

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On Nov. 10, a Sacramento, Calif., jury determined that Ford Motor Co.’s conduct was “despicable” in the handling of a tire replacement program conducted by Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in 2002 and awarded a family more than $70 million for wrongful death with $17.5 million in compensatory damages.

The jury determined that Ford had information relative to a recall Goodyear had conducted for tires placed on E-350 Econoline 15-passenger vans and failed to provide the information to its customer base and owners of the vans. The jury determined that their conduct was a breach of their responsibility and duty as a manufacturer.

On April 9, 2004, an E-350 15 passenger van owned by the Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church suffered a catastrophic right-rear tire tread separation that resulted in the vehicle going out of control, rolling over four times and killing its driver, Bill Brownell, and its front-seat passenger, Tony Mauro.

After the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ( NHTSA) opened a defect investigation into the Load Range E tires in November 2000, Goodyear agreed to replace the older model tires that had been installed on 15-passenger vans with its new design that included a nylon overlay. Goodyear made this determination in the late 1990s and ultimately stopped construction of the four-ply tire in 1999. Ford stopped utilizing this tire because of its failures in 2000 and all new models of E-350 Econoline vans were provided with the new six-ply tires.

Despite Ford’s knowledge of the investigation by NHTSA, the change in construction by Goodyear, and their determination to take the four-ply tires off of their vans, Ford never communicated this information to its customer base, its owners of 15-passenger vans, or to its dealerships, lawyers for the Mauros said.

During the course of trial, Ford’s representatives testified that they did not notify their dealers or the consumers because they viewed it as a “Goodyear campaign” and that they were never specifically asked by Goodyear or the government to notify their customers of this defective tire on the 15-passenger vans.

The jury, in its deliberations and ultimate verdict, determined that the conduct of Ford was despicable and ultimately decided that an appropriate award of more than $50 million against Ford would, hopefully, educate them on their failure to their consumer base.

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