On March 15, 2018, a Pasco County, Florida jury returned a $25,910,000 verdict against Ford Motor Company and the First Baptist Church of New Port Richey for a single wrongful death arising out of a 15 passenger E350 Van rollover. The crash happened on February 21, 2014, just outside of Lake City, Florida. The van was owned by The First Baptist Church of New Port Richey. The Church was using the van to transport members of its congregation from New Port Richey to a retreat in Georgia.
The rollover was immediately preceded by a catastrophic tread separation suffered by the left rear tire. The tire that failed had been previously recalled.
The case was brought by Jeff Salliotte, in his capacity as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Michalanne Salliotte. Michalanne was unbelted and ejected from the van, and suffered fatal injuries as a result. She left behind four children in addition to her husband Jeff.
The Plaintiff was represented by Rich Newsome and Frank Melton of Newsome Melton, PA, and Christine Spagnoli of Greene Broilet & Wheeler, LLP.
With respect to Ford, the Plaintiff successfully argued that the van’s seatbelts were defectively designed because they could fall between or below the seats, making them inaccessible to a seated passenger. The Plaintiff also successfully argued that the van was defectively designed from a handling standpoint because it had a rear-wheel bustleback, rather than a dually design.
The Plaintiff also successfully argued that the Church was negligent in failing to look for and pull the seatbelts up on top of the seats to ensure they were accessible to passengers.
The Jury found that the E350 Van was placed on the market with defective seatbelts and with a defective rear-wheel bustleback design. The Jury also found that the Church was negligent.