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On March 15. 2008 the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety issued its Status Report on SUV Rollovers, which confirms defect claims made by the Alexander law firm in numerous lawsuits against Ford for Explorer roofs that fail miserably in rollover crashes.

The IIHS reports that the Explorer was among the worst of the 11 SUVs it tested: “the difference in roof strength was obvious when the Nissan Xterra and Ford Explorer, both 2000 models, were subjected to a crushing force of up to 10,000 pounds. The Xterra’s roof crushed about 2 inches, and damage is hardly visible except for a cracked windshield. Meanwhile the Explorer’s roof crushed 10 inches, caving far into the occupant compartment even before reaching 10,000 pounds of force.” In June 2007 the Alexander law firm sued Ford for the July 5, 2006 death of Tongan Prince Uluvalu Tu‘ipelehake a seat-belted passenger in a four-wheel drive 1998 Ford Explorer operated by Vinisia Hefa and owned by John Martin Hiss III of Palo Alto, who employed Ms. Hefa as a housekeeper. The Prince and Princess Kaimana Tu‘ipelehake, who also was crushed to death in the crash, were visiting the Tongan community in the San Francisco Bay Area and were being chauffeured by Ms. Hefa.

The Explorer was northbound on U.S. 101 in Menlo Park, California at 65 mph when a 1998 Mustang driven by an 18 year old changed lanes into the Explorer and brushed into the left front bumper of the Explorer. The initial contact was at the leading edge of the passenger door of the Mustang.

In a fraction of a second, at a speed in the range of approximately 95 feet per second, the Mustang engaged the Explorer for a distance of approximately eight feet along its right side for roughly a tenth of a second. Mustang corrected course after the contact, continued northbound and neither the driver nor the passenger were injured. The Mustang sustained moderate damage to the right side. See attached photo of the Mustang.

The Explorer veered to the right and, as the Highway Patrol report drawing shows, when the driver corrected to the left, the Explorer performed as expected, tripped, and rolled causing the Explorer roof to massively deform as it has in numerous similar highway rolls, killing the Prince, his wife and the driver.

The complaint filed on June 4, 2007 behalf of the Prince’s surviving sons in Santa Clara County Superior Court by the Alexander Law Firm explains in detail the claims against Ford for the Explorer’s inherent instability and its propensity to roll when drivers make emergency maneuvers. The actual language of the complaint follows.

Ford Knew the 1998 Explorer was Inherently Unstable

The Ford Explorer was designed to replace the Bronco II and it originally was called the 4-door Bronco II. The Bronco II has been judicially determined to be a defective and unreasonably dangerous vehicle.

At all relevant times, the design, testing history and the development of the Bronco II establishes the knowledge that Defendant Ford Motor Company had at the time it designed and distributed the Explorer.

At all relevant times, Defendants, and each of them, knew that the Ford Explorer, was designed with the combination of a narrow track width and a high center of gravity and that this design had a dangerous tendency to trip, rollover or flip in turning maneuvers, especially in emergency freeway turning maneuvers when operated as a passenger-type vehicle.

Originally the 1998 Ford Explorer came with 225/70-15 tires on 15-inch rims.

The subject 1998 Ford Explorer was equipped with 255/70R16 tires on 16 inch Chrysler alloy rims.

At all relevant times, Defendants, and each of them, knew that the after market installation of oversized tires was erroneously believed by the public to provide greater stability, yet the contrary was true. Oversized tires on this 1998 Ford Explorer, combined with oversize 16 inch wheels, raised the center of gravity by three inches and increased the inherent unstable design of the Explorer to readily trip and roll in emergency freeway turning maneuvers; nonetheless Defendants, and each of them, refused to adequately warn and explain these facts to consumers and users, including plaintiffs’ decedent.

At all relevant times, Defendants, and each of them, knew that the after market installation of wide tires was erroneously believed by the public to provide greater stability, yet the contrary was true. Wide tires on this 1998 Ford Explorer, 255 mm [10.04 inches] v. 225 mm [8.85 inches] have a greater tendency to roll because the result of a wider tire is that each inch of tire surface on the roadway carries less weight. In addition, Defendants knew that decreased tire pressure, especially in a wider tire would further increase the probability that the tire would roll and trip in a turning maneuver. In this case, the right front tire carried only 20 pounds of tire pressure and for that reason was presenting a “concave” surface to the roadway with only the outer portion of the tread on the roadway and a “soft” sidewall. This “soft” wide tire contributed to the instability of the Explorer and caused it to trip when a left turning movement loaded the right front tire in an emergency freeway turning maneuver. Nonetheless Defendants, and each of them, refused to adequately warn and explain these facts to consumers and users, including plaintiffs’ decedent.

At all relevant time, Defendants, and each of them, knew that as the number and weight of the passengers and cargo in an Explorer increased, its center of gravity was raised and increased the instability of this passenger vehicle; nonetheless Defendants, and each of them, refused to adequately warn and explain this fact to the public, including plaintiffs’ decedent.

At all relevant times, Defendants, and each of them, knew that the Explorer was not equipped to properly handle emergency maneuvers at interstate highway speeds, as evidenced by statistics involving rollover accidents involving company-owned vehicles.

Furthermore, Defendants, and each of them, knew that the risk of rollovers was extraordinarily high in the Explorer when compared to passenger vehicles and that in a rollover, deaths and fatal injuries are extraordinarily high.

Defendants, and each of them, knew all these facts when it sold the Explorer and yet Defendants, and each of them, recklessly, fraudulently, and maliciously marketed the Explorer as a forgiving, safe and stable passenger carrying vehicle, which was intended to mislead, and did willfully mislead, consumers, including plaintiffs’ decedent, to believe that the vehicle was safe for highway transportation and free of any unreasonable risk of rollover in turning maneuvers experienced daily by consumers.

The combination of the foregoing overt acts and acts of concealment created an extreme risk of rollover that is substantially beyond the expectations of the consumer, a risk beyond the ability of consumers to protect themselves on the road, and a risk from which even skilled drivers cannot correct against or prevent, and Defendants, and each of them, said nothing, concealing its knowledge and acting in conscious disregard of the rights of plaintiffs’ decedent.

Uncrashworthy: Roof Readily Crushes in all Rollovers

In addition to the foregoing, Defendants, and each of them, knew that the Explorer was not equipped with reasonable safety features to protect occupants when a rollover did occur. Having sold an unstable vehicle which was expected and known to trip and roll on the highway at highway speeds, Defendants did nothing to protect belted occupants from the high probability of severe permanent injuries and death as a result of a roof not designed to maintain the integrity of the passenger compartment and too soft to protect belted occupants in an expected and probable rollover. For these reasons the Ford Explorer was and is not crashworthy.

See attached Exhibit A, which is incorporated by reference, a photograph showing the complete failure of the lead roof pillars [A pillars] in the subject 1998 Ford Explorer in the collision of July 5, 2006 that killed plaintiffs’ father. In addition, Exhibit A shows white paint transfers to the left front tire and a springing of the left corner of the Explorer’s bumper.

Attached as Exhibit B, which is incorporated by reference, is a photograph showing the Delgado Mustang‘s right door having suffered moderate prying damage as a result of the Delgado Mustang striking the Explorer’s bumper. In addition Exhibit B shows black rubber scuffmarks transferred from the left front wheel of the Explorer along the right passenger door of the Mustang.

Although Defendant Delgado contributed to the crash events with an improper lane change, she did not kill the occupants of the 1998 Ford Explorer, including plaintiffs’ decedent.

At the time of the lane change, on information and belief Defendant Delgado was driving at approximately 75 miles per hour on U.S. 101 where the average traffic speed of Californians keeping pace with the flow of traffic is 70 miles per hour and higher. That speed is evident from the moderate damage to the passenger door’s leading edge and the black scuffmarks on the door. The speed differential between the Ford Mustang and the Ford Explorer at the time of impact was on the general order of approximately 10 miles per hour and the impact caused the Explorer to rotate to the right as the vehicles traveled together during the period the black scuffmarks were generated on the side of the Mustang.

Defendant Vinisia attempted to correct “by turning the steering wheel back to the left” [CHP report page 34]. See also CHP diagram, page 5 of Report Number 2006.07.30, which is attached as Exhibit C and incorporated by reference, showing the path and correction taken by the driver of the Explorer.

The rapid turning of the steering wheel of the Explorer caused it to trip and roll, as has been confirmed in investigations and tests of other Explorers of this vintage.

The inherent instability of this 1998 Ford Explorer, on a flat level road, and the total lack of crashworthiness of the roof in a rollover are the principal factors that caused the death of Uluvalu Tu’ipelehake.
Had plaintiffs’ decedent been a passenger in a Honda, a Toyota, or any other standard passenger car, even a Ford Mustang, it would not have rolled and plaintiffs’ father and the two additional occupants of the Explorer would not have died.
Defendant Ford marketed and sold the Explorer despite its knowledge that the Explorer was defectively unstable and uncrashworthy and exposed the consuming public to an extreme risk of injury or death.
Defendant Ford is well aware of the hazards of SUVs from its own files, plus the public record.

In 2002 alone, among 42,815 people who died in highway crashes, 6 out of 10 were killed in SUVs and pickups. Most involved rollovers.

In SUVs alone, more than 51,000 people died in rollovers involving SUVs from 1991-2001.

Attached as Exhibit D, Exhibit E and Exhibit F are three examples of hundreds of Ford Explorers that have rolled and caused serious injuries and deaths. In each case the loss of control of an unstable Explorer resulted in an expected rollover and an expected failure of the roof pillars and roof structure causing crushing cranial and cervical injuries and deaths.

Notwithstanding its propensity to roll and a dangerously under-strength roof that did not protect belted occupants in an expected rollover, at all relevant times the Explorer was recklessly, fraudulently and maliciously marketed and sold by Defendant Ford in that consumers and drivers were led to believe that the Explorer was a safe and stable “station wagon-type” vehicle without providing necessary and adequate warnings and instructions that would have given the consumer and driver adequate information so that an informed choice could be made about purchasing and/or driving the Explorer and the true dangers of an unstable design and a roof that was inappropriate to protect belted occupants, rendering the vehicle uncrashworthy.

Defendants, and each of them, recklessly concealed its knowledge from plaintiffs’ decedent and the public, knowing that it was reckless to allow the Explorer to serve as transportation for Plaintiff and others because of the extreme risk of serious and fatal injuries.

As a direct, proximate and legal cause of the despicable, malicious, willful, wanton and reckless misconduct of Defendants, and each of them, the Explorer in which plaintiffs’ decedent was a passenger was caused to rollover and crush plaintiffs’ father, an innocent seat-belted passenger, thereby killing him.

Defendant’s misconduct includes, but is not limited to, Defendants’ despicable, malicious, willful, wanton and reckless design, manufacture, marketing, testing, distribution and concealment of extremely dangerous defects and propensities in a product that Defendants knew was extremely dangerous and defective for the uses for which it was marketed. And, in addition, selling, such a dangerous vehicle, knowing it would readily roll without providing adequate roof strength to protect belted occupants.

The acts and concealments by Defendant were in conscious disregard of the rights of Plaintiff and the consuming public in general.

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Richard Alexander