Ford $3.3 Million Air Bag Verdict

Ford Escape 2010Ford Motor Company was hit with a $3.3 million air bag verdict Sept. 2, 2016. A South Carolina federal jury ruled for the wife of a man badly hurt in a crash when an air bag malfunctioned and inflated too late. The jury found that Ford shared responsibility for the man’s suicide that followed the accident.

Related: Air Bag Lawsuit Lawyer

2010 Ford Escape Air Bag Malfunction

Plaintiff Crystal Wickersham, widow of John Wickersham, sued Ford after her husband hit a tree while turning from one state highway onto another at a T intersection near Beaufort, S.C., in February 2011. The air bag failed to deploy when the crash began, said the petition. By the time it did deploy some milliseconds late, Mr. Wickersham was so close to the steering wheel that the bag’s force fractured his skull, upper jaw, cheek bones, a rib, and ruptured his left eye. Crystal Wickersham also said Mr. Wickersham’s 2010 Ford Escape’s seatbelt pretensioner was defective.

Plaintiff proves Breach of Warranty Claim

Ford_logo2The jury voted that Crystal Wickersham proved, “by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant made and breached any express warranty with respect to the 2010 Ford Escape, and that this breach of defendant’s express warranty was a proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries.”

The jury awarded $4.65 million, but also found Wickersham 30 percent at fault, which resulted in a final amount of $3.26 million. The verdict form was signed Aug. 26, 2016 and filed Aug. 29.

The jury awarded $1.25 million for John Wickersham’s pain and suffering between the accident and his suicide; $650,000 for Crystal Wickersham’s loss of consortium before his death; $1.38 million for loss of consortium after death; $1.375 million for beneficiaries of John Wickersham;.

The jury awarded no punitive damages, ruling Ford did not act recklessly or maliciously.

Mr. Wickersham went over a curb in a rainstorm at 19 mph and hit a tree, according to court filings. Investigators found he was wearing his seatbelt and traveling under the speed limit.

Ford Verdict Response

A Ford spokeswoman said of the verdict: “Our sympathy continues to go out to the family of Mr. Wickersham. While this incident was certainly tragic, the scientific evidence demonstrated that the accident was caused by the driver’s own inattention, as well as not being properly seated and restrained at the time of the accident.”

Car Accident led to Suicide

Besides the multiple surgeries caused by the accident, Mr. Wickersham suffered lasting “extreme pain,” according to the judge, which was essentially untreatable. In addition, his pain medications triggered suicidal thoughts discovered in an April 2012 hospitalization. Mr. Wickersham lost his left eye in November 2011, a terrible blow, especially considering longtime vision problems plagued his right eye. The accident also caused the Wickershams severe financial hardship.

Mr. Wickersham’s jaw was wired shut for six weeks after the accident. He also required a tracheotomy to breathe, according to the plaintiffs.

Mr. Wickersham committed suicide in July 2012 by taking prescription painkillers.

Mr. Wickersham had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2003. According to orders filed by the judge, he had worked as a pharmacist and pharmacy consultant for decades, including stints at Roper Hospital in Savannah, Georgia, and Beaufort Memorial Hospital.

Crystal and John Wickersham had been married 30 years. The plaintiff’s filings said they had four children and two grandchildren. Crystal Wickersham works as a career nurse.

Ford Hit with $3.3M Air Bag Verdict

According to an attorney for the plaintiffs, the Restraint Control Module within the car was not programmed to deal with an event like Mr. Wickersham’s – a 19-mph crash into a pole at an angle – so it failed to  deploy for 120 extra milliseconds, though it never should have deployed at all.

The case is Wickersham v. Ford, case number 9:13-cv-01192, in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.

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