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Ga. Jury Awards Another $14M in Ford Suit

Mar 3, 2004 | AP

A Georgia jury ordered Ford Motor Co. to pay nearly $14 million in punitive damages Wednesday to the family of a young girl who was paralyzed during a 2000 crash they blamed on a faulty back seat latch in their sedan.

The money is atop $33.9 million in compensatory damages the same jury awarded the family of Kelsey Sasser on Tuesday.

"I certainly hope the people at Ford get the message that it is improper to market and sell vehicles that can injure people," the family's attorney said in a telephone interview.

A Ford attorney did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday. Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford plans to appeal the decision, said a company spokeswoman who declined to identify herself.

"This was a tragic accident, and we feel for the family, but the outcome does not match the evidence," the spokeswoman said, reading a prepared statement.

Rhonda Sasser sued the automaker and the Atlanta dealership that sold the white 2000 Lincoln LS, claiming it had a back fold-down seat that failed to latch securely and collapsed on her 6-year-old daughter, Kelsey, during the accident.

The damages were awarded following a two-week trial in state court.

Concerns about the latch system prompted Ford to change its design in 2001, according to lawyers for the Sassers.

The Sassers maintained that Ford knew about the latch defect as early as 1993.

Dawson has said previously that there were minor problems with the latch system in a small percentage of the 2000 sedans, but not the Sassers' car.

Dawson told jurors there was no reason for a recall because customers could easily detect a malfunctioning latch, which dealers would replace.

The defense attorney also maintained that Kelsey wasn't sitting in the back, alleging that she was in the front passenger seat and was injured by an air bag designed for an adult.

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