FT. MYERS, Fla. -- A Florida jury has found Ford Motor Co. liable for a rollover accident involving a Ford Explorer, in the second such legal setback for the maker of America's best-selling sport utility vehicle so far this year.
The jury in U.S. District Court in Ft. Myers, Fla., ordered Ford to pay compensatory damages in the case on Wednesday, according to Bruce Kaster, one of two plaintiff's attorneys.
He said the jury was still out deliberating the amount of punitive damages when the automaker offered an out-of-court settlement of the award on Thursday.
Neither party in the case would diclose the amount settled on. But Ford was ordered to pay $2.5 million in compensatory damages, according to company spokesmwoman Kathleen Vokes.
That pales in comparison with the $122 million compensatory award Ford was ordered to pay in a separate Explorer rollover case in San Diego County in June, when Ford was also ordered to pay $246 million in punitive damages.
But the Florida trial also marked Ford's second loss after 13 victories in Explorer rollover lawsuits, and Kaster said it was a "huge verdict" against the second-largest U.S. automaker.
Kaster and co-counsel Richard Denny represented the family of Bob Miller, a safety officer for a Ft. Myers roofing company who died in March 2001 when the right-rear tire on his 1996 Explorer failed and caused him to lose control of the vehicle.
The vehicle went off the road, rolled over, and Miller, 57, was killed, Kaster told Reuters.
He said the jury ruled against Ford because internal company documents disclosed at the trial showed that Ford was aware of a stability problem with Explorers manufactured through the 2001 model year that make them far more difficult than other vehicles to control when they experience de-treading, or catastrophic tire failure.
"The thing that's unprecedented here is that not only did the jury find that they were negligent and that they were strictly liable, they found that they were wanton and willful in their disregard for public safety," Kaster said.
"In Florida, in order to make that finding, it's the same thing as finding manslaughter," he said.
Ford's Vokes said she had not seen the documents Kaster referred to and was unable to comment further.