Gonzalez & Associates Law Firm P.C., Bell Law Firm, and Motley Rice Llc, have made public the resolution of the Guzman sisters’ death cases against Ford Motor Company. The wrongful death cases of these two Texas women were resolved in a settlement with Ford Motor Company on April 21, 2004, for an undisclosed sum hours before closing arguments were to be made in the trial.
Maria Elena Guzman and Maria Edna Garcia both died on February 15, 2002, when their 1999 Ford F-150 ran off the road and rolled over. During the trial, an eyewitness testified he saw Maria Elena Guzman flying out of the vehicle. Maria Edna Garcia was partially ejected, hung by the neck with her seatbelt. Evidence supported allegations that a defective door latch was the cause of both doors opening and both women’s deaths.
A DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY state trooper in Alice, Texas was a key witness during the trial. Having worked for DPS for 13 years, Sergeant Ricardo Javier Palacios testified he had previously witnessed another Ford door latch opening in an accident, and he contacted Ford to report the problem prior to the Guzman/Garcia accident.
Ford first referred him to their engineers. From there, the engineers recommended he contact Ford’s general counsel. General counsel then referred Mr. Palacios to the warranty department. After several phone calls and no progress, Mr. Palacios stopped calling Ford to inquire about the potential door latch problem.
On April 21, 2004, after nearly four weeks of trial and prior to both sides giving their closing arguments, the parties reached a compromise. Ford insisted that the settlement amount be kept confidential.
Jaime A. Gonzalez, Jr., who represented Ms. Garcia’s family, stated, “All of us are pleased with the outcome of the settlement and that the victims’ families will be compensated. However, we believe Maria Elena Guzman and Maria Edna Garcia may be alive today had their Ford F-150’s doors not opened.”
After years of efforts with pending Ford door latch cases, Bell Law Firm said that it acquired evidence of Ford’s conduct supporting allegations that: 1) Ford welded doors shut or removed doors during crash tests to ensure no embarrassing information; 2) Ford knew it was in violation of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 206, according to the gold standard (Society of Automotive Engineers SAE standard J839) to establish 206 compliance, and failed to notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and owners of the affected vehicles; 3) Ford used an outdated 1967 General Motors procedure to establish “compliance” after it knew the latch did not meet the SAE J839 compliance; and 4) Ford fought disclosure of the documents in litigation to prevent the owners, NHTSA and the general public from knowing all the facts about the defective door latch. Ford frequently had experienced unintended door openings in crash tests and real world accidents and received customer complaints on door openings, but failed to take any retroactive action. While Ford engineers consistently say any door opening is a safety problem, the latch in the affected vehicles remains unchanged.
Ed Bell of Bell Law Firm affirmed, “Last year, it was discovered that Ford was conducting an investigation regarding a manufacturing defect involving 1997-2000 Ford F-150 pickups. Ford fought hard to keep the information from the public and consistently concealed it from discovery in other litigation involving door latch related cases.”
In the Zapata case, Jaime A. Gonzalez, Jr. filed a motion to sanction Ford for failing to disclose the evidence of the door handle problem. As a result of this motion, this Texas court fined Ford $44,000 for discovery abuse.
Andrew N. Gilberg of Teknacon, a prominent door latch engineering expert, also testified at the recently settled trial in Texas. Mr. Gilberg worked closely with plaintiffs’ counsel in analyzing the acquired Ford documents regarding the alleged safety defect.
Due to accident reports that verify a Ford door opening, automotive defect attorneys, state troopers from across the country, and a team of specialized engineers have joined forces to prove allegations that Ford’s door latch is responsible for various victims’ deaths or paralysis. Unfortunately, many door openings go undetected because the door has the ability to close after it has opened and ejected an occupant.
“What we’ve discovered in several instances is a Ford F-150 would get hit by another car, the F-150 would rollover, the door would open, and the driver and/or passenger would fly out of the car. Those who wore their seatbelts can end up dangling out the door,” stated Fritz Jekel, attorney for Motley Rice. He continued, “We now have solid evidence which supports allegations that Ford’s door latch mechanism was responsible for the door flying open and many passengers and drivers flying out of the affected vehicles.”
Separate from the abovementioned efforts of Gonzalez & Associates, Motley Rice and Bell Law Firm, a class action complaint was filed March 5, 2004, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Texarkana Division. This class action, Sam Fisher, individually and as class representative vs. Ford Motor Company, indicates that Ford allegedly knew about two F-150 door latch defects: the rod-based component and the torsion spring component. The complaint also specifies that Ford allegedly had knowledge of risks associated with the defective door latch and could have taken reasonable steps to alleviate the risks by repairing the vehicles. Gonzalez & Associates, Motley Rice and Bell Law Firm are not presently involved in this class action.
The 4.1 million potentially affected Ford owners have a right to know they may be driving vehicles with a serious safety defect. Bell Law Firm and Motley Rice have collaborated in this endeavor to offer their knowledge, experience, and resources to individuals and local co-counsel. Their attorneys have established legal strategies and a history of holding defendants liable for misconduct. For more information, visit http://www.defectivedoor.com/ .