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Man Awarded $19 Million in Ford SUV Crash

March 15, 2000|MYRON LEVIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A jury in Hayward, Calif., on Tuesday ordered Ford Motor Co. to pay damages of more than $19 million to a Fremont man who was rendered quadriplegic when his Bronco II flipped over.

The auto maker in recent years has settled more than 679 rollover claims involving the Bronco II, but it appeared that Tuesday's award in Alameda County Superior Court could be the largest in a Bronco II case if it survives an appeal.

"We are pleased with the verdict, and that Ford . . . has been held accountable for this tragic incident," said W. Randall Barnhart, a Denver attorney, who, along with San Francisco lawyer Paul Nelson, represented accident victim Richard A. Raimondi in the two-month trial.

While describing the accident as "clearly a tragedy," Ford spokeswoman Susan Krusel said, "We don't believe there was any credible evidence introduced at the trial that would support a jury finding that a vehicle defect caused any part of the accident."

Raimondi, 57, a former insurance executive, was crippled on July 28, 1996, after swerving to avoid a chunk of tire tread in his lane on Interstate 880. Both sides agreed his Bronco II struck a low concrete wall in the center divider, and as it veered back into the roadway, glanced off a passing car before rolling over several times.

According to Raimondi's lawyers, the vehicle flipped because its narrow track width and high center of gravity make it unforgiving in steering maneuvers.

Ford blamed the accident on negligence by Raimondi, arguing that it was unreasonable for him to execute such a sharp turn.

Ford built more than 700,000 Bronco IIs from 1983 to 1990, when it retired the model in favor of the larger Explorer. But hundreds of thousands of Bronco IIs are still on the road.

By 1995, according to court records, one or more people had died in 909 incidents when Bronco IIs flipped over without first hitting other vehicles. By that time, Ford had settled 334 Bronco II rollover cases for about $113 million. As of January 1999, the number of settlements had grown to 679. Only about 10 to 15 cases have been tried to verdicts, with Ford winning more than half.

Voting 9 to 3 in Raimondi's favor on most of the verdict questions, the jury set compensatory damages for Raimondi at $38.7 million, and awarded an additional $13 million to his wife, Dana Raimondi.

However, the jury found that Ford and Raimondi, whose medical expenses exceed $600,000 per year, were each 50% responsible for his injuries--thus reducing Raimondi's award to just over $19 million. Lawyers disagreed on whether that finding would also halve Dana Raimondi's award to about $7 million.

Judge David E. Hunter is to determine whether the total award is for $26 million or $32 million. The jury did not award punitive damages.

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