April 7, 2015, PLLR E-Newsletter | The American Association For Justice Archive

April 7, 2015, PLLR E-Newsletter

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Plaintiffs claim Ford failed to address skate risk, leading to fatal rollover

The plaintiffs sued the automaker, alleging its 2002 Explorer was subject to the dangerous condition known as skate and that the defendant was aware of how to eliminate or compensate for the condition but failed to do so. Yruegas v. Ford Motor Co.

Jesus Yruegas, 50, was driving a 2002 Ford Explorer with his wife, Argelia, 51, and two of the couple’s four daughters—14-year-old J.M.Y. and 11-year-old E.A.Y.—as passengers. As the SUV was traveling on a highway in Mexico, the left rear tire—a Definity Dakota H/T model manufactured by Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.—had a tread separation. The Explorer went out of control and rolled over, severely injuring all of the occupants.

J.M.Y., who was seated in the third-row center seat, suffered a skull fracture and died of her injuries. She is survived by her parents and three sisters, including one adult sister and one minor sister who were not involved in the crash.

Argelia, who was the front-seat passenger, suffered a spinal fracture at C5-6, resulting in quadriplegia. Her past medical expenses totaled $454,000, and the present-day value of her future life-care costs is estimated at $5.9 million.

E.A.Y., who was seated in the second row, suffered brain injuries, including subdural and subgaleal hematomas; spinal fractures at C2, T5, and T7-8; and bilateral pulmonary contusions. Her past medical expenses totaled about $217,000, and her future life-care costs, reduced to present value, are estimated at $599,000.

Jesus suffered a spinal fracture at T12, fractures to his left femur and ribs, and lung contusions. His past medical expenses totaled about $35,000, and the present-day value of future medical expenses is estimated at $315,000.

Jesus, Argelia, and their adult daughter, individually and on behalf of J.M.Y.’s estate and the two minor girls, sued Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., alleging that the tire that failed was defectively manufactured in that it had (1) a shifted belt, (2) a misaligned belt, (3) embedded foreign material in the belt skim stock, and (4) inadequate bonding of rubber-to-steel cord. The plaintiffs asserted that the tire was also defectively designed in that it lacked a full nylon cap ply to prevent or inhibit tread-belt separation, and the belt skim compound lacked adequate anti-degradant chemicals. They also contended that Cooper Tire failed to adequately inspect the tire and warn of its defects.

The plaintiffs later sued Ford Motor Co., alleging that the Explorer’s defective design rendered it dangerously unstable and difficult to control in the event of a rear tire failure. The plaintiffs claimed that, in addition to its narrow track width and high center of gravity, the Explorer was subject to a dangerous condition known as skate. Specifically, they alleged, a rear-tire failure on the Explorer could trigger rear-axle tramp, in turn causing rear-end breakaway, which made the vehicle extremely difficult to control. The plaintiffs asserted that Ford was aware of how to eliminate or compensate for skate but failed to do so in the 2002 Explorer. The plaintiffs also alleged that the Explorer’s lack of electronic stability control contributed to the SUV’s control problems.

The plaintiffs further alleged that the Explorer was not crashworthy in that the roof structure was not sufficiently strong to withstand the foreseeable forces of a rollover without compromising the occupant survival space. The plaintiffs contended that the vehicle’s C and D pillars had collapsed completely, and the B pillar collapsed partially.

Finally, suit alleged that Ford failed to adequately test the Explorer and warn of its dangers.

The plaintiffs injured in the crash sought damages for physical pain, mental anguish, disfigurement, past and future physical impairment, and past and future medical expenses. They also sought damages for bystander emotional distress. In addition, Jesus sought damages for loss of consortium and household services with respect to Argelia, and all three daughters sought damages for loss of their mother’s parental consortium.

The plaintiffs reached confidential settlements, first with Cooper Tire and later, with Ford.

Citation: Yruegas v. Ford Motor Co., No. 2012-CVT-000820D4 (Tex. Dist. Ct. Webb Cnty. Jan. 2015).

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member Robert E. Ammons, Houston.

Plaintiff experts: Stephen M. Arndt, accident reconstruction/vehicle dynamics, Chandler, Ariz.; Stephen R. Syson, automotive design, Carpinteria, Calif.; Joseph L. Burton, forensic pathology, Alpharetta Ga.; Brian Herbst, crashworthiness, Goleta, Calif.; and Troy Cottles, tire failure analysis, Toney, Ala.

Defense experts: Joseph Grant, tire design and performance, Matthews, N.C.; Juan Herrera, accident reconstruction, El Paso, Texas; Janyna Mercado, neuropsychology, and Adam Harris, orthopedic surgery, both of San Antonio, Texas; and Thomas Hedge Jr., physical medicine and rehabilitation, Northridge, Calif.