A $19 million jury verdict in a Ford Explorer rollover retrial is less than a third of the $60 million the first jury awarded, but attorney Gustavo Gutierrez had only one plaintiff this time instead of two.
“By this time the father had died,” Gutierrez said.
Jurors in both the 2005 trial and one that ended Friday reached similar conclusions.
“They found the Ford Explorer was defective and unreasonably dangerous,” said Gutierrez of the Gutierrez Law Group in Miami.
Lance Hall, then 17, was thrown from the front passenger seat of a somersaulting Explorer after the driver, a high school classmate, fell asleep at the wheel in 1997 and lost control of the vehicle on I-75 in Collier County. The North Miami teen’s parents sued Ford Motor Co. in Miami-Dade Circuit Court in 1999 alleging defects in the sport utility vehicle’s handling and stability caused it to flip instead of skid.
The first jury found Ford liable for $30 million for pain and suffering of the father, Lester Hall, and $30 million for the mother, Joan Hall-Edwards.
But the Third District Court of Appeal reversed in 2007, saying Circuit Judge Roberto Pineiro erred by allowing testimony alluding to hundreds of Ford Explorer accidents without requiring the plaintiffs to establish similarities between those accidents and the one that killed Lance Hall.
The new “jury did not get to hear about all the other cases around the country,” Gutierrez said. “We believe that it should not have been excluded.”
Miami defense attorneys Henry Salas, a partner at Cole Scott & Kissane, said he and co-counsel Wendy Lumish, a shareholder at Carlton Fields, had no comment. Gregory Schuck, a partner at Huie Fernambucq & Stewart in Birmingham, Alabama, also represented Ford.
Gutierrez’s team included Kimberly Boldt of Hollywood, Bruce Kaster of Kaster Lynch in Ocala and Richard Denney of Denney & Barrett in Norman, Oklahoma.
Gutierrez said the plaintiffs presented essentially the same case as before, minus reports of other accidents.
“The particular challenge is Ford Motor Co. and all the money it has,” he said.
Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey presided over the retrial, which began Jan. 8. The jury awarded Hall-Edwards $10 million for past pain and suffering and $9 million for future pain and suffering.
More than 250 people were killed and 800 injured in Ford Explorer rollovers in the 1990s, prompting hundreds of lawsuits against the automaker and tire manufacturer Bridgestone/Firestone and a $19 million recall campaign by both companies in 2000 and 2001. Tires played no role in this trial.
Lance Hall was student body president at the MAST Academy on Virginia Key and on the school’s state champion water polo team. He died two months before he was to enroll at the University of Florida.
His twin sister, Loriellen, has since become an attorney, Gutierrez said.