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Ford Wins Defense Verdict in Rollover/Roof Crush Case

Minnesota
Jul 05, 2007

CASE RESULTS DEPEND UPON A VARIETY OF FACTORS UNIQUE TO EACH CASE. CASE RESULTS DO NOT GUARANTEE OR PREDICT A SIMILAR RESULT IN ANY FUTURE CASE.

FORD WINS DEFENSE VERDICT IN ROLLOVER/ROOF CRUSH CASE

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL -- A federal district court jury in St. Paul, Minnesota returned a unanimous verdict July 5, 2007 finding no defect in the roof of a 2001 Ford F-150 Supercab pickup truck, rejecting claims that the crushing of an allegedly defective roof caused the driver's neck injury and permanent quadriplegic paralysis.

Plaintiff Sheila Robeck was driving her family's five-month-old F-150 pickup truck when she lost control passing on snow and ice. The truck went off the left side of the road and impacted the far side of a ditch, causing the airbags and pretensioners to deploy and throwing the truck into a passenger-side leading roll, vaulting 50 feet through the air to an impact on the driver's side roof rail and rolling over a total of two or three times.

Ford argued at trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota that Robeck's head was against the inside of the roof rail when the first 50-foot vaulting impact occurred, and that she sustained a "diving" type neck injury that would have occurred even if the truck's roof had been infinitely stiff and rigid. The plaintiffs claimed that the F-150 pickup had inadequate roof strength and that the roof crushed in, causing injury either by the roof striking the driver's head or by the roof crush allowing the driver's head to contact the ground outside the vehicle. Plaintiffs held the Volvo XC90 out as an alternative design with a stronger roof, but Ford responded that there is no conventional vehicle made by any manufacturer that can prevent the driver's head from pressing up against the roof rail during rollovers of this severity.

Ford countered plaintiffs' claims by citing technical studies and analysis showing that neck injuries in rollovers occur when the vehicle and the occupant are upside-down and the vehicle, roof and occupant all hit the ground at the same time. If the head, neck and torso are aligned, as was the case here in Ford's view, the downward movement of the torso compresses the neck, causing injury before there is any significant roof deformation. The auto maker said that, despite the F150 having roof strength in excess of the federal standard, in rollover accidents, roof crush does not cause neck injury and making roofs stiffer or more rigid does not prevent neck injury.

The eleven-person jury deliberated just over one day before returning a unanimous verdict in favor of Ford.

Robeck, et al. v. Ford Motor Co.,
Court File No.: 04-CV-4858 (PJS-JJG) (D. Minn.)

Ford was represented by David R. Kelly, C. Paul Carver, and Theodore Dorenkamp, III, of Bowman and Brooke in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The plaintiffs were represented by Robert Langdon of Langdon & Emison, Lexington, Missouri and by Daniel DeFeo of The DeFeo Law Firm, P.C., Kansas City, Missouri.

Expert witnesses for the plaintiffs were Richard Ziernicki of Centennial, Colorado, on accident reconstruction; James Mundo of Henderson, Nevada, on roof design and performance; Louis D'Aulerio of Penns Park, Pennsylvania, on seat belt design; and, Dr. Joseph Burton of Alpharetta, Georgia on biomechanics and injury causation.

Defense experts were Geoffrey Germane of Provo, Utah on accident reconstruction, Larry Ragan of Plymouth, Michigan on roof design and performance, Jeffrey Pearson of Rochester, Michigan on seat belt design; and Dr. James Raddin of San Antonio, Texas on biomechanics and injury causation.

Trial Team

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