Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida court accuses Ford Motor Co. of hiding deadly sudden acceleration glitch

For the first time, a Florida court has found validity in decades of complaints by drivers that faulty electronics can cause their cars to rocket out of control.

In doing so, a 5th Circuit Court judge has accused Ford Motor Co. of hiding or destroying records of its own engineers' concerns about sudden acceleration caused by electronics — instead blaming accidents on drivers inadvertently hitting the gas pedal.

If upheld, one attorney predicted thousands of old cases brought by drivers of runaway cars could be reopened.

The ruling this month by Senior Judge William Swigert reversed his jury's verdict on behalf of Ford 17 months ago. Swigert's circuit covers the Central Florida counties of Sumter, Citrus, Hernando, Lake and Marion. The trial was held in Bushnell.

The verdict coincidentally occurred at a time when thousands of drivers were complaining of being terrorized by runaway Toyotas.

The vehicle on trial in Bushnell was a 1991 Ford Aerostar, a clunker with 159,000 miles on it that cost Ralph and Peggy Stimpson $300 in 1999. It's the vehicle that made Peggy Stimpson, 61, a quadriplegic and put her in a power wheelchair that she now steers every day. On Tuesday, she said she couldn't comment.

In 2003, the Stimpsons said their Aerostar inexplicably accelerated out of their driveway, causing them to crash into a ditch. They blamed "electromagnetic interference" — errant electrical impulses — in the van's cruise control.

Ford blamed Ralph Stimpson for accidentally hitting the gas pedal while shifting into drive.

The jury took only two hours to decide in favor of Ford.

But in 46 pages of blistering criticism, Swigert said his 17-month review of the evidence and legal motions made him believe the jury was misled by Ford.

During the February 2010 trial, Ford's defense was based on misstatements about critical evidence and personal attacks on the Stimpsons' attorneys, Swigert said.

Ford followed "a calculated plan to interfere with the judicial system's ability to adjudicate a matter by improperly influencing the jury," he said.

The judge said Ford had concealed or destroyed its own service reports that identified "electromagnetic interference" as a possible cause of cruise control problems.

If those reports had been shared with federal safety authorities, he wrote, "the government would have discovered years ago that electronic failures in the cruise control system is a cause of sudden acceleration."

The judge ordered a new trial, but limited to consideration only of compensatory and punitive damages for the Stimpsons.

If his ruling is overturned on appeal, Swigert said the entire case should be retried.

On Tuesday, Ford stated it "strongly disagrees with Judge Swigert's decision, which overturned a unanimous jury verdict in Ford's favor. … Ford will appeal this erroneous ruling and seek to have the jury's decision reinstated."

Roy Glass of St. Petersburg, one of the attorneys for the Stimpsons, predicted similar complaints against Ford could be reopened if Swigert's ruling survives an appeal.

"But a celebration is premature," he said.

"It's been seven years since the accident left Peggy Stimpson a quadriplegic. The ruling isn't helping them at this juncture. Probably a lot more time will have to pass before they see justice out of this."

John Barry can be reached at jbarry@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Florida court accuses Ford Motor Co. of hiding deadly sudden acceleration glitch 07/26/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 10:54pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pasco driver, 66, dies in Friday crash on SR 54

    Accidents

    NEW PORT RICHEY — A 66-year-old man died Friday after he collided with oncoming traffic on State Road 54 in Pasco County, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

  2. Florida reverses decision to shield information from nursing home inspection reports

    Health

    TALLAHASSEE — Florida regulators decided Friday they will abandon the use of software that allowed them to heavily redact key words from nursing home inspection reports posted online, choosing instead to link to the more complete reports available on a federal site.

    Officials for the state Agency for Health Care Administration said Friday they will no longer use software that allowed them to heavily redact key words from nursing home inspection reports posted online. The agency has been under increased scrutiny since Sept. 13, when eight residents of The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, pictured here, died after power was lost to an air-conditioning system during Hurricane Irma. Two more residents died this week. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]
  3. Trump's travel ban to be replaced by restrictions tailored to certain countries

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's ban on travelers from six majority-Muslim countries is set to be replaced as soon as this weekend with more targeted restrictions on visits to the United States that would vary by country, officials familiar with the plans told the New York Times on Friday.

  4. Maria: Clearwater Coast Guard plane aids rescue near Puerto Rico

    Military

    Eight minutes. That's how long it took the Petty Officer 3rd Class Darryn Manley of the Coast Guard said it took him to spot the boat that capsized off a Puerto Rican island on Thursday.

  5. Mom of girl who died looking for candy seeks to keep husband away

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Eight days after her 4-year-old daughter died in the care of paternal grandparents, pregnant Lizette Hernandez sat in a Hillsborough County courthouse Friday, attempting to seek full-time custody of her 19-month-old son.

    Lizette Hernandez, 22, above, completes paperwork Friday for a motion for protection from domestic violence against her husband, Shane Zoller. Their daughter, Yanelly, 4, left, died in a gun accident at the home of Zoller’s parents.