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Caylor v. Ford

Jun 22, 2007


California Jury Finds Ford Explorer Roof Not Defective

Gardena, CA (June 22, 2007) - On Friday, June 22, 2007, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury found that the roof of Ford's 1999 Explorer was not defective in design, rejecting claims that Ford was responsible for the death of the driver in a single vehicle rollover crash. The jury in Judith Caylor v. Ford Motor Company deliberated one day before rendering its verdict for Ford, after a three week trial.

On April 18, 2004, Paul Huard, Jr., his wife Judith Caylor and her daughters and sister were traveling westbound on I-40, just west of the junction with US-95, in San Bernardino County, in their 1999 Ford Explorer, en route home from a combination pleasure/business trip in Laughlin, Nevada. Mr. Huard was driving the vehicle, and Ms. Caylor was a passenger in the right front seat. Her daughters were passengers in the rear outboard seats and her sister in the rear center seat. Mr. Huard and three of the four passengers were seat-belted.

For unknown reasons, the vehicle veered to the left, off the paved highway, over the rumble strips, and onto the dirt/gravel center median. Mr. Huard pulled the steering wheel hard to the right and then hard to the left, putting the Explorer into a sideways slide. The Explorer crossed back over the two lanes of the highway, struck the asphalt curb/drainage channel on the shoulder of the highway and rolled, passenger's side leading, coming to rest on its roof in the desert. Mr. Huard died at the scene of massive head injuries. Ms. Caylor and her daughters and sister sustained only minor injuries.

Plaintiffs had contended that the 1999 Explorer was susceptible to on-road rollover, but dropped their stability claim just prior to trial and focused on a claim of design defect as to roof strength. Plaintiffs' roof expert Terrence Honikman opined that excessive roof deformation had forced the driver's door to pop open in the rollover. Plaintiffs' biomechanical expert John Brault opined that Mr. Huard's head was crushed between the roof rail and the door window frame as the door hit the ground in the rollover, and testified that if the door had no opened Mr. Huard would not have suffered fatal injuries.

Defense expert Andrew Levitt reconstructed the crash for Ford, and concluded that the vehicle rolled over four and one-half times, with a speed at rollover in the range of 50 mph, and that Mr. Huard's initial speed upon leaving the road was about 80 mph. Mr. Levitt also testified that the door opening was late in the crash and inconsequential. Defense expert Dr. Robert Piziali testified that Mr. Huard's injury occurred when his head was partially ejected through the door window frame and caught between the upper door frame and the ground, and that it was unrelated to the roof deformation. Robert Gratzinger was Ford's expert on roof strength, and explained that the 1999 Explorer's roof was well designed and that the scientific literature demonstrated that there was no increase in occupant protection by increasing the roof strength above the level required by the federal standards. Vehicle handling expert Don Tandy testified that there were no mechanical problems with the Explorer that caused it to go off the road, and also as to the deficiencies of plaintiffs' computer simulation of the reconstruction.

Caylor v. Ford
Case No. BC 335738
Judge Victor E. Chavez
Los Angeles County Superior Court

Attorneys for Defense:
Mark V. Berry and Edgar J. Gutierrez of Bowman and Brooke's Los Angeles office

Attorneys for Plaintiff:
Mark Weidemann of the Law Offices of Mark Weidemann, Los Angeles, and Carney R. Shegerian and James Urbanic of Shegerian & Associates, Inc.

Experts appearing at trial for Defense:
Andrew Levitt, accident reconstruction, Torrance, CA, Robert Piziali, biomechanics, San Carlos, CA; Robert Gratzinger, roof structures, Irvine, CA; Donald Tandy, vehicle dynamics, Magnolia, TX.

Experts appearing at trial for Plaintiff:
John Brault, biomechanics, Lake Forest, California; Terrence Honikman, roof structure, Goleta, California; David King, reconstruction, Lake Forest, California.

Trial Team

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