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Ford wins appeal of $60m verdict

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Bloomberg News / November 9, 2007

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. -Ford Motor Co., the second-biggest US automaker, won a reversal of a $60 million jury verdict awarded to the parents of a 17-year-old boy who was killed during a rollover of a 1996 Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle.

The parents of Lance Hall claimed design defects in the Explorer left it unstable. A Miami jury in November 2005 awarded them $61 million, later reduced by $1 million by the trial court. The verdict was the largest in 2005 against an automaker, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

A Florida Appeals Court erased the rest of the award, ordering a new trial. The trial judge improperly allowed Hall family attorneys to present evidence of deaths and injuries in other Explorer rollovers without showing similarity between these accidents and the one involving Hall, the appeals panel said in an opinion published Wednesday.

"No precautions or measures were taken to ensure that the other accidents were not too remote in time or that the conditions of the accidents were similar," the court said in its 12-page decision. "Based on the record before us we are unable to determine whether the differences in condition were material or immaterial."

The Hall family will appeal the decision to the Florida Supreme Court, attorney Bruce Kaster said in an interview. "If they don't take it, we'll go back and try it again," he said.

The decision may "backfire" on Ford if the new trial order is upheld, he said. The plaintiffs will still be able to introduce other accidents in a retrial, "but we'll be getting in more information about them," he said.

"We are confident our position will prevail in a new trial," said Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley in an interview. Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford wasn't responsible for Hall's death, she said. "The accident resulted from the driver falling asleep and losing control of the vehicle," Kinley said.

Lance Hall was a front-seat passenger in the Explorer in April 1997 when the driver drifted off the road. The Explorer rolled over, ejecting Hall, who died at the scene.

Ford shares gained 24 cents to $8.48 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.

US sales of Explorers fell from more than 400,000 in 2002 to 118,321 this year through October. Last month, the company's Escape small SUV and Edge wagon outsold Explorer.

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