Plaintiffs Expose Ford’s Safety Problems With Cruise Control

Accident Reconstruction Journal
Volume 16, NO. 6
November/December 2006

A plaintiff’s verdict of $18,000,000 was announced after three weeks of trial by a team of several nationally known litigators, including J. Edward Bell, III, against Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F – News) as the result of a fatal 1999 car accident involving a 1995 Ford Explorer, which also left another passenger a quadriplegic.

The defective cruise control that suddenly accelerated was at the heart of the case. The auto defect claims were strengthened by many expert witnesses, including Antony Anderson, a PhD Electrical Engineer, who testified that electrical problems caused the cruise control to malfunction. Anderson said, “It would have been very simple for Ford to prevent this accident.” Patricia Carter was killed in the accident and Sonya Watson was rendered a quadriplegic. The jury determined that both Patricia Carter and Sonya Watson were wearing their seatbelts.

During the trial jurors were shown car parts and replicas and also personally examined the remains of the Ford Explorer involved in the accident. One of the plaintiffs’ experts, Bill Williams, showed the jury models of the parts of the Explorer and explained the defects found in the vehicle.

Wally Fayssoux, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs said, “This was an historic verdict. However, it will never restore the life of Patricia Carter, nor change the horrible condition in which Sonya Watson was left.”

The lawsuits filed against Ford Motor Co., TRW Vehicle Safety Systems Inc. and D&D Motors questioned the safety of the vehicle’s seat belts and electronic cruise control. Co-counsel and automotive defect attorneys J. Edward Bell, III of the Bell Legal Group LLC, Georgetown, S.C., Kevin Dean of Motley-Rice LLC, Mt. Pleasant, S.C., and James W. Fayssoux, Jr. of Anderson Fayssoux and Chasteen, Greenville, S.C., participated in the trial on behalf of the plaintiffs.

The case, Watson vs. Ford, filed and tried in South Carolina Circuit Court, Greenville, South Carolina, was the result of an automobile accident that occurred on Interstate 385 in Laurens County. Sonya Watson, who was 17 at the time of the accident, was driving the Explorer when it suddenly accelerated and “took off”. When pumping the breaks did not work, she reached down for the pedal and because of her seatbelt, could not reach the gas pedal to attempt to stop the vehicle.

At that time, the car began swerving and then rolled four times. Both Watson and her aunt, Patricia Carter were ejected from the Ford Explorer. Watson broke her neck and is now a quadriplegic and Carter died in the accident.

“This cruise control system uses outdated and unreliable technology, but Ford chose this cruise control system because it was cheap,” said plaintiff’s attorney Kevin Dean. According to attorney J. Edward Bell, III, Ford has literally received thousands of complaints on its cruise control systems installed in Ford vehicles between 1992-2002. “Even after discovering the cruise control was plagued by dangerous safety problems, Ford has tried to hide the issue and has not tried to correct the design defects,” says J. Edward Bell, III.