HUNTINGTON – A federal jury has awarded a Poca man and his wife $3 million in a lawsuit against Ford Motor Company when the couple alleged their vehicle's gas pedal got stuck and caused the vehicle to crash.
The jury awarded Howard Nease costs for past medical care, treatment and hospitalization in the amount of $762,828.35; costs for future medical care and expenses in the amount of $500,000; damages for permanent injury, including impairment of capacity to enjoy life and mental anguish in the amount of $750,000; and damages for pain and suffering in the amount of $750,000, totaling $2,762,828.35.
The jury awarded Nancy Nease, Howard Nease's wife, $250,000 for loss of consortium.
"Mr. Nease was severely injured and spent months in the hospital and suffered permanent life-changing injuries," said Tony O'Dell, one of the Neases' attorneys. "Ford, as is typical when Ford is sued for a defective product, tried to blame Mr. Nease by saying that he was old and unhealthy and just put his foot on the wrong pedal. The jury just didn't buy it."
O'Dell said Ford has tried to blame other drivers for stuck open throttles but juries keep finding Ford's products to be defective.
"The jury sent a clear message to Ford Motor Company that it needs to follow its very own safety rules," O'Dell said. "Ford had safety documents that proved that Ford knew Mr. Nease's throttle could become stuck wide-open just the way Mr. Nease and his experts said it could.
"Ford's own safety documents also said that if the throttle became stuck open due to the defective speed control cable, it presented the highest safety hazard of 10 out of a possible 10."
O'Dell said despite the 10 of 10 safety hazard and the known speed control cable failure mode, Ford never considered a different design and just sent millions of cars and trucks onto roadways of West Virginia and other states that Ford knew could become deadly runaway cars and trucks.
"The federal jury sent a clear message of deterrence to Ford Motor Company," O'Dell said. "That message was 'follow your own safety rules or we will enforce the rules for you.'"
O'Dell said the federal jury made clear that safety rules will be enforced in West Virginia, and by doing so, has made our community safer.
"Our juries are the conscious of the community; the guardians of the community," O'Dell said. "Juries decide what is acceptable behavior in our communities. Ford's conduct is not acceptable in West Virginia, and that message was loud and clear."
The trial lasted from March 24 until April 1 and, after deliberations, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Neases with respect to their claim if strict liability and in favor of Ford on claims of negligence and breach of implied warranty.
The Neases filed their lawsuit on Nov. 22, 2013, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.
Howard Nease owned a 2001 Ford Ranger and on Nov. 12, 2012, he was involved in a single motor vehicle accident as a result of the throttle sticking or failing to return to the idle position, according to the suit.
"As ... Howard Nease was traveling in the[vehicle] between 45 and 50 mph with his right foot on the accelerator pedal, he perceived the need to slow his vehicle to avoid overtaking traffic ahead," the complaint stated. "He released the force on the accelerator pedal, intending to slow the vehicle. As he did this, the engine speed of the vehicle likewise remained near 45 mph."
Howard Nease then moved his right foot to the brake pedal and began a forceful application of the brakes, and, after realizing that the throttle had failed to release or was otherwise still engaged without his input, he continued to apply the brakes in an effort to slow the vehicle.
Despite using all of his physical abilities, Howard Nease was unable to apply sufficient brake pedal force to overcome the stuck-open throttle, according to the suit.
"The ... Ranger continued in the westbound direction while advancing on vehicles in the same lane ahead of the plaintiff," the complaint stated. "Consequently, the plaintiff had to take evasive action and steer the [vehicle] off of the roadway to avoid causing a multi-car collision on U.S. Route 60."
In so doing, the vehicle proceeded traveling westbound off of the highway, jumped the curb and flew into the air, landing in a mulched, landscaped area.
The vehicle then travelled across the mulch and jumped another curb before striking a brick bay located at Mousie’s Car Wash, according to the suit. The vehicle then continued through the car wash bay and collided with a brick building adjacent to the car wash.
A witness who was present in the adjacent wash bay observed the event and reported to the investigating officer that the Ranger struck the wall so violently that the rear end of the vehicle jumped several feet off of the ground and the under-carriage of the truck was visible to onlookers.
"Following the collision, the ... Ranger came to a stop against the brick wall while the engine continued to run at full throttle," the complaint stated. "It was reported to the investigating officer that the back wheels of the [vehicle] continued to spin at full speed causing smoke from both the tires and the engine until the engine finally shut off 25 to 30 seconds later."
The witness in the adjacent wash bay rushed to assist the plaintiff and found that he was sitting upright in the driver's seat with his seat belt on, according to the suit.
The witness then attempted to open the driver's side door to free the plaintiff, but because of the damage to the vehicle, required additional assistance from employees of a nearby business to pry the driver's side door open and assist Howard Nease to a nearby sidewalk.
Howard Nease suffered physical pain and suffering; mental anguish and suffering; permanent physical impairment; loss of capacity to enjoy life; medical expenses; and annoyance and inconvenience, according to the suit. Nancy Nease suffered loss of services and consortium of her husband.
The Neases were represented by L. Lee Javins II of Bucci Bailey & Javins; O'Dell of Tiano O'Dell PLLC; and Edgar F. Heiskell III.
Ford was represented by John Randolph Bibb Jr., Ryan N. Clark and Robert F. Chapski of Lewis Thomason King Krieg & Waldrop; and Michael Bonasso, Susan W. Romaine and Andrew B. Cooke of Flaherty Sensabaugh & Bonasso.
The case was assigned to District Judge Robert Chambers.
U.S District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia case number: 3:13-cv-29840