BRATTLEBORO, Vt. - A state court jury has awarded a Massachusetts man paralyzed after an accident seven years ago $1.25 million after deciding that the steering in the 1978 Ford Bronco in which he was riding was defective.
The Windham County jury deliberated for three hours before returning the verdict in favor of James Ulm, 52.
Ulm's attorney said Ford was so intent on trying to capitalize on the popularity of the Chevrolet Blazer in the late 1970s that it rushed the Bronco into production, and used the steering from its F-150 pickup trucks without proper testing.
Attorney Michael Hanley produced a 1979 memo on Ford stationery that revealed a steering component was 'not strong enough to support severe 4x4 operation. Sector shaft failures indicate there's not enough strength,' the memo stated.
Ford had argued that the Bronco's driver, Gary Corey of Brattleboro, had been drinking, and that his poor driving caused the accident.
Ulm, who now must use a wheelchair, said he hopes to be able to regain use of his right leg, and eventually walk with aid of crutches. He returned to his job 11 months after the accident.
Ulm was a passenger in the Bronco when it went out of control, struck a tree and rolled several times. Ulm and some friends had spent the day at Lake Harriman and were returning to a friend's camp. Corey received minor injuries; Ulm was paralyzed. Neither man was wearing a seat belt, and both had been drinking.
Some of the first people on the scene said that Corey, in a daze from the crash and with a large gash on his head, complained that the steering had suddenly stopped functioning, causing the Bronco to crash.
One of the first people on the scene was a mechanical engineer, who recognized the broken shaft because the Bronco was on its side.
Ford Motor Co. said that Corey's carelessness caused the accident, which in turn snapped the shaft.
Kurt Gerstner, a Boston lawyer representing Ford, said no decision has been made on an appeal. Another Ford lawyer, James Campbell, said Corey had been charged with drunken driving, but the charges were dismissed because the blood alcohol test results were faulty.
Of the $1.25 million award, the jury earmarked $260,000 for emotional distress and suffering.