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Missouri Jury Returns Defense Verdict in Roof-Strength Case

Columbia, MO
Jan 29, 2009


COLUMBIA, MISSOURI (January 29, 2009) - A state district court jury in Columbia, Missouri returned a verdict in favor of Ford Motor Company on January 29, 2009, in the case of Gessling v Ford Motor Co., et al. The jury rejected plaintiffs' claims that the crushing of the roof of a 1999 Ford F-250 Crew Cab pickup truck, that was badly damaged in a violent rollover crash, caused either the driver's fatal head injuries or the front passenger's non-fatal injuries. In their Closing Argument, plaintiffs had asked the jury to award as much as $25 million in damages.

On Thanksgiving Day in 2003, Alan Gessling was driving his 1999 F-250 heavy duty pickup truck northbound on Highway 63 to his parent's home at about 5:30 p.m. for Thanksgiving dinner. His wife Heather Gessling was seated in the front passenger seat and both were wearing their seat belts. About 12 miles north of Columbia, the Gessling's Ford was struck from behind at over 80 mph by a Chevrolet pickup truck being driven by the other defendant, Charles Russell.

The collision forced the Ford to accelerate and slide sideways down into the highway median, where it started a passenger-side leading roll, rolling up the median's slope, across the southbound lanes, and into a ditch beside the highway shoulder. The truck rolled several times, over 100 feet. The severe forces and multiple impacts of the rollover crash caused the roof of the pickup truck to crush, and rescue services had to remove parts of the vehicle to extricate the occupants.

Ford argued that the driver sustained his head injury when his head got outside the driver's window and struck the road pavement before significant roof deformation. Ford also argued that the front passenger's head got outside her window and struck the ground causing injuries to the right side of her head, from which, by the time of trial, she had recovered. Plaintiffs claimed that the roof was unreasonably weak, and that the occupants sustained their injuries inside the truck when the roof of the F-250 got crushed in the rollover. Ford countered that rather than being defectively weak, in fact this heavy duty four-wheel drive diesel pickup had one of the strongest roofs of any truck in its class.

Ford also countered plaintiffs' arguments by citing technical analysis and research showing that, in rollover accidents, centrifugal forces can pull the occupants' heads outside the windows, regardless of the strength of the roof. Therefore, the automaker argued that even making the roof infinitely strong would not have made a difference to the occupants in this accident.

Instead, Ford contended, the injuries caused to the occupants in this tragic crash were caused by the negligence of the other driver, Mr. Russell. The jury agreed and assigned 100% of the fault for Alan and Heather Gessling's injuries to driver defendant Russell.

Ford was represented by David R. Kelly, Fred J. Fresard and David N. Lutz of Bowman and Brooke LLP in Minneapolis, MN and Detroit, MI; and by Rod Loomer of Turner, Reid, Dunkin, Loomer and Patton in Springfield, MO.

Defendant Charles Russell was represented by Jeffrey Parshall of Ford, Parshall & Baker LLC in Columbia, MO.

Plaintiffs were represented by Randall L. Rhodes, Christopher J. Stucky and Benjamin C. Fields of Douthit, Frets, Rouse, Gentile & Rhodes LLC in Kansas City, MO.

Expert witnesses for the plaintiffs were Scott Altman of San Antonio, TX, on accident reconstruction, Steve Forrest of Goleta, CA, on roof design and performance, and Wayne Ross of Lancaster, PA, on injury causation and biomechanics.

Expert witnesses for Ford were David Blaisdell of Torrance, CA, on accident reconstruction, Robert Piziali of San Carlos, CA, on injury causation and biomechanics, Jeffrey Croteau of Natick, MA, on roof design and performance, and Eddie Cooper of Scottsdale, AZ, on restraint design.

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