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SF Judge Gives Ford A $69 Million Reversal

SAN FRANCISCO December 4, 2002; Karen Gullo writing for Bloomberg reported that the Ford Motor Co. legal team persuaded a court to throw out a $69 million jury award to a Nevada couple who said a flawed parking brake caused their truck to roll over their 3-year-old son, who was killed.

The 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals reversed the punitive damages awarded by a Nevada jury to Ginny and Jimmie White, who said the world's second-largest automaker failed to tell truck owners that the parking brakes had a design flaw that caused them to suddenly disengage.

The jury has to come up with a new damage award to punish Ford on behalf of customers in Nevada, not Ford customers nationwide, the court said. The judge in the case failed to instruct the jury to limit the award to Nevadans, the court said.

"We are pleased that the court recognized that the punitive amount was improper. We are disappointed that the court didn't go further and reverse the verdict," said Kathleen Vokes, a Ford spokeswoman.

The court upheld a $2 million compensatory damage award against Ford for the 1994 accident. The jury had originally awarded $150 million, which was reduced by the lower court to $69 million.

"Possibly the jury would have chosen as large an award had it been told to vindicate only the rights of Nevadans," the court said in an opinion published today. "But possibly it would have chosen a substantially lower award."

Shanin Specter, who represented the Whites, declined to comment.