Jury imposes $1.7 billion verdict, largest in state history, against Ford

This story has been updated.

A Gwinnett County jury unanimously imposed a $1.7 billion verdict, the largest in state history, against Ford Motor Co. on Friday in a wrongful death lawsuit stemming from a 2014 rollover crash that killed a Middle Georgia couple.

Voncile Hill, 62, and her husband Melvin Hill, 74, died after their tire blew out on a Sumter County highway in 2014 and their 2002 Ford Super Duty F-250 pickup rolled over. They were farmers traveling from their Macon County home to Americus to pick up a tractor part, said James E. Butler, of Butler Prather.

Butler is the lead attorney for the Hills’ adult children, Kim and Adam.

The children sued Ford and Pep Boys, among others. The jury determined Ford had sold 5.2 million “Super Duty” trucks with weak roofs that would crush people inside during rollovers. The flaw was present in all “Super Duty” models between 1999 and 2016, Butler said.

“The Hill family is thankful to the jury for their verdict, and glad to get this phase of the litigation over with, finally,” Butler said. “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.”

A representative for Ford told the Associated Press on Sunday that the company plans to appeal.

“While our sympathies go out to the Hill family, we do not believe the verdict is supported by the evidence,” Ford said in a statement.

Three-quarters of the punitive damages go to the state of Georgia, per state law for product liability cases.

The jury Thursday awarded Kim and Adam Hill more than $24 million for their parents’ wrongful deaths and pain and suffering. The jury determined 30% of the damages went against Pep Boys for installing the wrong size tires on the truck, causing the blowout.

Butler said evidence showed the wreck was survivable and the Hills died because they were crushed by the truck’s roof.

The trial lasted three weeks. The case was first tried in 2018 but ended in a mistrial.

Attorneys submitted evidence of nearly 80 similar wrecks where people had been killed or injured when the trucks’ roofs crushed them during rollovers. Ford has declined to say how many similar incidents it knows of and never issued a recall, Butler said.

“These trucks have killed dozens, if not hundreds, of people,” Butler told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The punitive damages against Ford are nearly four times greater than the Georgia’s previous largest verdict 24 years ago, when another Gwinnett jury imposed $457 million against Time Warner and affiliates in a contract dispute involving Six Flags Over Georgia.

Bill Rankin contributed to this article.