Case Spotlight: Dunlap vs. Folsom Lake Ford, $11,400,000 verdict

Laskin Balma Attorneys at Law in Sacramento & Elk Grove CA recently took a very interesting case to trial that may have a huge impact on personal injury cases in the future. Our client, Robert Dunlap was driving a truck owned by William Chapman when the steering locked up. He lost control of the vehicle, and hit the center median. The truck rolled two and a half times and landed upside down with Mr. Dunlap hanging from his seatbelt.

Mr. Dunlap survived the crash, but he was gravely injured. He suffered two disc fractures, one at C6 and the other at C7, and was diagnosed with Brown Sequard Syndrome, a type of paralysis. Mr. Dunlap experienced numbness on his right side, stiffness, cramping, sharp pains, loss of feeling in his left hand, right hip pain, respiratory distress, and pulmonary contusions.

A very bad crash, to be sure, but what is so important about this case?

The fact that the steering on the truck had been complained about multiple times and no steps had been taken to fix it. In fact, the defendant in this case, Folsom Lake Ford, outright said that the truck was safe to drive when they knew there four worn ball joints in the vehicle that needed to be replaced. Documents showed that the mechanic who inspected the vehicle in July 2007 noticed the worn ball joints, but no recommendation was made to the owner to replace them.

A prior owner of the vehicle, Mr. Sample, actually returned the truck to Folsom Lake Ford because he didn’t like all the problems he was having with it. In deposition he stated Folsom Lake Ford tried to tell him the shaking and steering problems Mr. Sample reported was because he had oversized tires on the truck. While having a lifted truck may change the steering, it doesn’t cause it lock up and not move at all. Mr. Sample knew this and got fed up with the truck and Folsom Lake Ford’s excuses. He turned the truck in and left with a different one.

Mr. Chapman was the next person to buy the truck. When he brought it in to complain about the steering in July 2007, again, Folsom Lake Ford said it was the oversized tires, even though documentation noted the worn ball joints. The mechanic, unbeknownst to Mr. Chapman made a recommendation to replace the worn ball joints, but this was not relayed to Mr. Chapman in any form. Mr. Chapman continued to experience problems with the steering but believed the ASE certified mechanic when he told him it was safe. Under those promises of safety, he leant the truck to Mr. Dunlap in November 2007.

All of this information is important because it shows that the defendant Folsom Lake Ford knew the vehicle was in a dangerous condition and they could have prevented this horrific crash by recommending the repair it needed. All Folsom Lake Ford would have needed to do was say hey “you need to fix this, it’s not safe” in order to protect themselves. But they didn’t and that put people at risk. They put Mr. Chapman at risk, his family at risk, and his friend, Robert Dunlap, at risk.

The jury found Folsom Lake Ford liable for the harms suffered by Mr. and Mrs. Dunlap and returned a verdict in favor of the Plaintiffs in the amount of $7,476,926.00, with interest and costs added in the verdict is over $11,400,000.00. This is important because it shows businesses and car dealerships that you can’t cut corners. If you know a problem exists, it’s your responsibility to address it. You can’t put your head in the sand, blame oversized tires, and pretend a vehicle is safe just so you can sell it and make another buck. This jury showed that California juries will not stand for that kind of behavior. And neither will we here at Laskin Balma Attorneys at Law