CLEVELAND - A federal jury has awarded $17.5 million in a lawsuit against Ford Motor Co. that claimed a 1988 Ford Bronco II was unsafe and caused a 1995 crash that killed two.
The U.S. District Court jury awarded $7 million each to the families of Kathleen Clay, 18, and Christopher Strom, 26. They owned the sport-utility, were riding in the back seat and died in the crash. William Slonsky, who was driving the vehicle and was injured, was awarded $3.5 million.
The jury found the instability of the Bronco II was a design defect and was a major factor contributing to the June 1995 crash.
Slonsky testified that the sport-utility began acting erratically as he changed lanes on Interstate 77, causing him to crash. The vehicle rolled over about three times.
Evidence at trial indicated that Slonsky may have purposely caused the crash. An emergency technician, Brenda Krupar, in a deposition, said that Slonsky told her he was depressed earlier in the day, and that his friends had taken him out to dinner and that they were headed to a club when the accident occurred.
Krupar said, 'He stated that when they got about to the point in the road that they were, that he was making comments about wanting to kill himself, and at that point he had made the vehicle weave across the lanes, had lost control and the vehicle went over.'
She said a fourth occupant told her he and one of the back-seat passengers were 'tripping' on LSD at the time, but Slonsky denied using drugs and did not act as if he had.
Plaintiffs' attorney Edgar Heis-kell III of Charleston, W.Va., said the suicide and LSD allegations were 'character assassination on the part of Ford. They tend to make this look as though it's something unique that happened to this driver when in fact they've documented themselves 5,672 other Bronco II rollovers in just six states.'
Ford spokesman Jim Cain said, 'The verdict is wrong. Ford should not be held responsible for the actions or the damages caused by a driver who was reckless and abdicated responsibility for his own safety and the safety of his passengers.
'The Bronco II is a safe vehicle when operated responsibly,' he added. 'The allegations of the plaintiffs' attorneys that there was a defect in the handling of the vehicle was not borne out by NHTSA's investigation of the Bronco II. And numerous juries have listened to the same evidence and concluded there is no defect.'