WOODSTOCK — Ford Motor Co. plans to appeal a $1.7 billion verdict against the automaker after a pickup truck crash that claimed the lives of a Georgia couple, a company representative said Sunday.
Jurors in Gwinnett County, just northeast of Atlanta, returned the verdict late last week in the yearslong civil case involving what the plaintiffs' lawyers called dangerously defective roofs on Ford pickup trucks, lawyer James Butler Jr. said Sunday.
Melvin and Voncile Hill were killed in April 2014 in the rollover wreck of their 2002 Ford F-250. Their children Kim and Adam Hill were the plaintiffs in the wrongful death case.
"While our sympathies go out to the Hill family, we do not believe the verdict is supported by the evidence, and we plan to appeal," Ford said in a statement to The Associated Press on Sunday.
Butler said he was stunned by evidence in the case.
"I used to buy Ford trucks," Butler said on Sunday. "I thought nobody would sell a truck with a roof this weak. The damn thing is useless in a wreck. You might as well drive a convertible."
In closing arguments, lawyers hired by the company defended the actions of Ford and its engineers.
The Michigan-based automaker sought to defend the company against accusations "that Ford and its engineers acted willfully and wantonly, with a conscious indifference for the safety of the people who ride in their cars when they made these decisions about roof strength," defense lawyer William Withrow Jr. said in his closing arguments, according to a court transcript.
The allegation that Ford was irresponsible and willfully made decisions that put customers at risk is "simply not the case," another defense lawyer, Paul Malek, said in the same closing argument.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs had submitted evidence of nearly 80 similar rollover wrecks that involved truck roofs being crushed that injured or killed motorists, Butler's law firm, Butler Prather LLP, said in a statement.
"More deaths and severe injuries are certain because millions of these trucks are on the road," Butler's co-counsel, Gerald Davidson, said in the statement.
"An award of punitive damages to hopefully warn people riding around in the millions of those trucks Ford sold was the reason the Hill family insisted on a verdict," Butler said.