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Ford to Pay $369M in Rollover Accident

Jun 4, 2004 | AP

A woman left paralyzed when her Ford Explorer rolled over won a $369 million verdict from Ford Motor Co. in one of the biggest personal-injury awards ever against an automaker.

A San Diego County jury on Thursday ordered Ford to pay $246 million in punitive damages to Benetta Buell-Wilson, after awarding her and her husband compensatory damages of more than $122.6 million two days earlier.

The verdict marked Ford's first loss after 11 victories in rollover lawsuits involving the Explorer, the nation's best-selling sport-utility vehicle.

The trial, which began March 15, involved a January 2002 accident on an interstate highway near Alpine, east of San Diego. Buell-Wilson swerved to avoid a metal object and lost control of her 1997 Explorer, which rolled 4 1/2 times.

The 49-year-old San Diego mother of two offered to knock $100 million off the damage award if Ford recalled millions of Explorers and corrected the design flaws that she says left her wheelchair-bound.

"I'm hoping they'll fix what's out there because I don't want what's happened to me to happen to anyone else," Buell-Wilson said.

In a statement, Ford insisted the Explorer was safe.

"Although the offer makes a great sound bite, it doesn't change the facts: The Explorer meets or exceeds all federal safety standards. There is no defect with the Explorer," spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes said. "The Explorer is an outstanding vehicle with a solid safety record and we will continue to aggressively defend our products."

Ford has sold more than 5 million Explorers since the vehicle was introduced in 1990, she said.

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