Ford Motor Co. and Woman Paralyzed in SUV Accident Involving Rear Seat Latch Failure Reach Auto Products Liability Settlement

Ford Motor Co. and a woman who was paralyzed in a 2005 SUV accident involving a defective rear seat latch have reached a confidential auto products liability settlement. The agreement came just after a civil jury awarded Lynn Wheeler $16,444,761 in compensatory damages against Ford and as jury members were getting ready to impose punitive damages.

Wheeler sustained catastrophic spinal cord injuries during a seatback collapse when a car driven by John C. Stanley struck the 2002 Ford Explorer she was a passenger. Wheeler, who was riding in the middle of the backseat of the SUV in between two of her grandchildren, was propelled forward into the vehicle’s center console and the back of the front seat. Meantime, the back seat collapsed over her after the rear seat latch broke.

Her Georgia auto products liability lawsuit accused Ford of designing a rear seat latch that was defective, disregarding safety test results showing that the center lap seat belt wasn’t safe, and, as a cost cutting measure, waiting to install a shoulder restraint for the SUV’s middle seat. A law passed in 2002, but which didn’t go into effect until 2007, now prevents car manufacturers from making vehicles with lap-only seat belts for the rear middle seat.

Wheeler, who is now a quadriplegic, has to use a ventilator and is a confined to a wheelchair. She has three children, nine grandchildren, and has been married to her husband for over 40 years.

The civil jury also held driver John C. Stanley, who was 19 at the time of the head-on crash, liable for $1,271,640 in damages.

Seat Back Defects

Defective seat backs can prove catastrophic for passengers in the event that the seat collapses during an auto accident. Common seat back injuries include spinal cord injuries, which can occur when the rear seat collapses forward and crushes passengers while pushing them into the back of the front seats, and chest and head injuries, which are more likely to occur when the front seat collapses backwards. Children, including those seated in child safety seats, are especially at risk of sustaining fatal injuries during a car crash where a seatback collapse is involved.


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