BARSTOW, Calif.—Ford Motor Co. and a Los Angeles plaintiff's attorney are publicly disputing the significance of the verdict in a wrongful injury case in Barstow Superior Court.
The case—which involved the catastrophic injuries of an Orange County, Calif., couple when their Ford Explorer rolled over—was the first in which a jury ruled that the basic design of the Explorer is faulty, according to attorney Garo Mardirossian of Mardirossian & Associates.
But Ford said this was a gross misinterpretation of the jury verdict, and that the Explorer's design was exonerated. Ford, the company noted, was not found liable in the verdict, but rather a Ford dealership the jury found guilty of making faulty repairs.
Mardirossian represented Agop and Catherine Gozukara, owners of a 1994 Ford Explorer. The Gozukaras were driving to Las Vegas in 1997—shortly after buying the vehicle used from Joe Macpherson Ford, a California dealership—when Agop Gozukara swerved to avoid a truck. The Explorer bounced off a wall and skidded 100 feet before rolling over.
Agop Gozukara suffered severe leg injuries that to this day hinder his ability to walk. Catherine Gozukara was rendered paraplegic and lost her unborn baby.
The Barstow jury rendered its verdict Jan. 31. According to a press release from Mardirossian & Associates, the jury “agreed with plaintiff's attorneys and declared that the Ford Explorer is defective by design with a propensity to roll over during emergency avoidance procedures.”
Ford, however, noted in its own press release that the jury ruled the Explorer itself did not cause the Gozukaras' injuries. Instead, it blamed allegedly faulty repairs in the Joe Macpherson Ford repair shop, and the penalty phase of the trial was set to continue Feb. 4 against Joe Macpherson Ford alone.
“Ford Motor Co. is absolved of all responsibility for this accident and faces no liability,” the auto maker said. This is the third jury, it added, that has exonerated the Explorer.
“Our sympathies go out to the Gozukara family, but this was an unfortunate accident,” Ford said. “The evidence showed that the Explorer rode up a concrete barrier and almost immediately rolled over—as any other comparable vehicle would have done in the circumstances. In addition, neither the driver nor the passenger was wearing a seat belt.”
A PR spokesman for Mardirossian & Associates acknowledged that Ford was not found liable. “But the jury also found that the I-beam design (of the Explorer) was defective as it rolled off the assembly line,” he said.
A Ford spokeswoman in turn accused Mardirossian & Associates of trying to put a positive spin on a verdict that went against them. “They lost what they thought would be a simple case against a deep-pocket company, and the jury found that the Explorer did not cause the accident,” she said.
Ever since the recall in August 2000 of 6.5 million Firestone tires, which were mostly original equipment on Ford Explorers, Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. have fought over assignment of blame. Bridgestone/Firestone claims the design of the Explorer played a role in the rollover accidents that caused 271 highway deaths, while Ford insists the tires alone were at fault.
Bridgestone/Firestone declined comment on the Barstow case.