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Kim v. Ford

Feb 23, 2007


Federal Court Jury Renders Defense Verdict for Ford in Alleged Explorer Steering Failure Claim

On Friday, February 23, 2007 a federal court jury in Los Angeles, California rejected claims of manufacturing defect, design defect, and negligence, against Ford Motor Company in two consolidated lawsuits arising from a single vehicle crash of a 1998 Ford Explorer. The seven member jury deliberated less than 2 hours before announcing its unanimous decision exonerating Ford following a two week trial in the courtroom of Federal Judge Christina A. Snyder of the Central District of California.

The lawsuits arose out of a crash that occurred on January 21, 2000 on La Cabrera highway, west of Caracas, Venezuela. The Ford Explorer, being driven by Tae Kim at about 9:30 at night, lost control on an elevated highway, struck the curb and vaulted over a low guard rail, falling approximately 115 feet to the ground below. Passenger Dr. Hyon Kim suffered a traumatic arm amputation and passenger Young Seek Hwang was fatally injured. Mr. Tae Kim suffered multiple broken ribs and other internal injuries. A Venezuelan accident report attributed the crash to loss of control as a result of hitting a pothole. Tae Kim, Dr. Kim and the heirs of Mr. Hwang sued Ford Motor Company for damages arising from the crash.

Plaintiffs claimed that the crash was caused by a loss of steering control due to the fracturing of the left front steering arm of the Explorer as it went through the pothole. They offered expert testimony to that effect from Rudolfo Ricardo-Brandt, a Venezuelan safety official who investigated the crash on their behalf. Mr. Ricardo-Brandt concluded that the steering arm fractured at the pothole, causing the left front wheel to turn to the left, inducing both a loss of control and an end-over-end rollover of the Explorer before it went over the guardrail. Plaintiffs also offered the testimony of Dr. John Mihelich, a metallurgist and adjunct professor at Emory University. He attributed the steering arm fracture to a design defect in the steering arm, as well as to several metallurgical deficiencies in the cast iron of the steering arm. Plaintiffs offered a damages analysis from economist Dr. Daniel Vencill of San Francisco that plaintiffs had suffered economic losses approaching $5 million. Plaintiffs also called Dr. Neil Jones from UCLA School of Medicine to explain the reattachment of Dr. Kim's arm performed in Venezuela immediately after the crash, and the subsequent decision to amputate the arm in 2003, as well as the consequences to Dr. Kim.

Ford contended that the loss of control was due to driver error on the part of Tae Kim, and that the steering arm fractured as a result of the impact with the curb and thus was a consequence of the crash and not the cause of the crash. The crash was reconstructed for Ford by Robert Rucoba of Carr Engineering in Houston, Texas. Ford also offered testimony from metallurgist Gary J. Fowler of Gardena, California that there were no metallurgical defects in the steering arm and that the fracture was an impact overload fracture consistent with a curb impact. Evidence was also presented as to the extensive materials specifications, quality control requirements, and durability testing undertaken by Ford to confirm that the steering arm could withstand severe impact events such as pothole strikes.

Ford was represented by Mark V. Berry and Anthony S. Thomas of Bowman and Brooke LLP, Gardena, California.

Plaintiffs were represented by Gerald C. Sterns and Brenda D. Posada of Sterns & Walker, Oakland, California, Law Offices of Gregory W. Smith of Los Angeles, and Law Offices of Young Kim, Los Angeles, California.

Hyon Seong Kim, et al vs. Ford Motor Company, CV01-03617 CAS, consolidated with CV06-1095-CAS.

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