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special to the national law journal A texas jury has ordered Ford Motor Co. to pay $18 million to a Texas man who was left paralyzed after his F-150 pickup truck flipped over. The verdict came less than six months after another Texas jury returned a $225 million verdict in a rollover incident involving another Ford F-150. One of two plaintiffs in the suit settled for an undisclosed amount. Mike Watts, the plaintiff’s attorney in the more recent case, is also urging Ford to recall 3 million F-150 SuperCab pickups-the vehicle involved in the more recent case-because of complaints over its allegedly weak roof structure. Ford said it will appeal the verdict, maintaining that the truck is safe and that the driver himself was to blame for the accident because he allegedly had been drinking and driving. “What we’d like to do is recall all drivers who drink while driving. They should be taken off the road,” said Ford spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes, adding, “There is no reason to recall the trucks. They meet or exceed all federal standards.” More to come? But Watts, who said he has settled roughly 150 rollover cases with Ford over the last decade, and is currently handling eight other similar suits involving the F-150 pickup, disagrees. “The fact of the matter of the case is that every roof case I’ve had with Ford they’ve settled,” Watts said. “Ford knows they have a horrendous problem with the strength of its roofs. And this is the first chance that they have let a jury look at what they did, and the results are obvious.” The Cameron County jury ordered Ford to pay Mario Castro, now paralyzed, $5 million in punitive damages and $13 million in past and future damages for injuries he suffered in an August 2000 accident. Castro v. Ford Motor Co., No. 04-001555-C (Cameron Co., Texas, Dist. Ct.). Castro, then 21, went off the road in his truck, which flipped over. Two other passengers suffered minor injuries. According to Watts, the jury found that the truck’s roof design was defective and that Ford was 70% responsible for the accident. He said that the jury also found that Ford had acted with malice in concealing the defect, so hit it with $5 million in punitive damages. While Watts admitted that Castro was responsible for the accident, he contends that Castro’s injuries were caused by a weak roof, which he compared to “a Coke can that will crush when you push it.” After the verdict, Ford said in a statement: “Although we have empathy for everyone involved, this accident was the direct result of drinking and driving . . . .According to Castro’s own statements, and those of eyewitnesses and police, he lost control of his vehicle. It is an abuse of the court system and unfair to sue a company for a product that worked properly.” Watts said a key to winning the Castro case was the court’s allowing the jury to inspect the truck and to see the crushed roof. “This was particularly important because the jury was able to see that less than a quarter of an inch of space was between the roof and the top of the seat back,” Watts said. “They were able to put their finger in between and realize that a human head couldn’t possibly be safe.” Ford’s lawyer, Doug Seitz of Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix, did not return calls seeking comment. Ford’s Vokes defended the roof, and said the jury’s verdict was based more on emotion than fact. “There was no evidence that was presented that showed any kind of roof deformation contributed to the injuries of Castro. It was a high-speed rollover,” Vokes said. Texas attorney Jeff Wigington of Corpus Christi, Texas’ Wigington Rumley, who represented one of the families in the $225 million verdict against Ford last December, doesn’t believe Watts is being unreasonable in urging a recall. Benavides v. Ford Motor Co., No. DC-01-195 (Duval Co., Texas, Dist. Ct.). “I believe it a very valid request, based on the track history of that particular vehicle,” said Wigington. Baldas’ e-mail is

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