Court cases transferred to Collier in 2010 tire blowout deaths of two teens

Two teens were killed when they were thrown from this SUV during an accident on Alligator Alley on Sunday. Photo courtesy of NBC-2.

Two teens were killed when they were thrown from this SUV during an accident on Alligator Alley on Sunday. Photo courtesy of NBC-2.

Students remember classmate

Two Collier students killed in car crash

Dehvohn Payne

Dehvohn Payne

Janelle Sansion

Janelle Sansion

Here are some jury awards against Ford Motor Co. and Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.:

* * * * *

$61.2 million: In 2005, a Miami jury found Ford liable in the 1997 death of Lance Crossman Hall, 17, of Miami Shores, a front-seat passenger thrown from a 1996 Explorer after his friend dozed off at the wheel, awakened when he hit rumble strips and lost control on I-75 in Collier County, 8 miles east of the Naples tollbooth.

* * * * *

$23.4 million: In 2011, a California jury found Ford responsible for a 1997 Explorer that rolled over three times after the tread on its original tires separated on the freeway, causing a single mother to become a quadriplegic.

* * * * *

$32.8 million: In 2010, an Iowa jury found Cooper liable for a defective Lifeliner Classic II tire that caused a minivan to roll over and kill one person, paralyze another and seriously injure four after a chemical flaw caused the tire’s steel belt to rust and weaken.

* * * * *

$131 million: In 2010, a Mississippi jury returned that verdict against Ford in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the family of a 22-year-old minor league pitcher, the driver killed in a 2001 Explorer rollover.

* * * * *

$369 million: In 2004, a California jury awarded a woman paralyzed from the waist down in a Ford Explorer rollover $246 million in punitive damages — meant to deter wrongdoing — and $122 million to compensate her for pain, suffering, medical costs, and other damages.

* * * * *

$10 million: In 2001, a Texas jury found Cooper to blame for a 1997 accident that killed four and injured three in New Mexico.

* * * * *

Sources: News reports and attorneys

— Two years after Naples teen cousins died in a Ford Explorer rollover crash after a tire blowout on Alligator Alley, their lawsuits are heading toward a possible trial in Collier Circuit Court.

A complaint filed by Luvisca and Brian Payne, whose 17-year-old son, Dehvohn, died in the Sept. 19, 2010, crash in eastern Collier County, was transferred from Miami-Dade Circuit Court and will be filed here this week. A related lawsuit filed by a representative for Pamela and Gregory Sansion, who lost their 16-year-old daughter, Janelle, in the crash, was transferred a few weeks ago.

The product liability lawsuits, filed in October, involve a Ford Explorer and a Cooper Discoverer HT tire, which have been targeted in lawsuits nationwide involving deaths and severe injuries, including paralysis and brain damage.

Explorers and Cooper tires have prompted multimillion-dollar verdicts and confidential settlements, including a $61.2 million 2005 Miami jury verdict involving an Explorer rollover on I-75 in Collier County and a $32.8 million verdict against Cooper Tire two years ago.

"No manufacturer comes close to failures with the number of deaths versus the number of tires made," said Ocala lawyer Bruce Kaster, who has won numerous lawsuits involving Explorer rollovers, tread separations and blowouts, including the $61.2 million award against Ford for the 1997 death of Lance Crossman Hall, 17.

Wednesday marks two years since the teens died on a Sunday afternoon as they headed home from a Fort Lauderdale youth retreat with their mothers, Sansion, 41, and Payne, 47, the driver. Both mothers were hospitalized with serious injuries.

FHP reports say Payne was westbound on I-75 at 1:53 p.m., near mile-marker 63, when the right rear tire blew, causing her to lose control and hit a guardrail. The Explorer then overturned twice before coming to rest atop the bridge's concrete barrier wall.

Dehvohn, a Lely High School sophomore, and Janelle, a Golden Gate High School junior, were ejected over the bridge, where Janelle died; Payne died soon after at Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers.

Although FHP reports say the teens weren't wearing seat belts, Kaster said there have been cases in which police reports say people weren't belted, but evidence showed Explorer seat belts failed.

The lawsuits, transferred because witnesses live here, seek damages against Ford, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. and New Life Tire Centers of Bonita Springs, which is operated by LTA Distributor LLC and Gluri Investments LLC of Miami. The suits allege Ford and Cooper designed and manufactured defective products, didn't warn consumers, and contend the seat belts failed. The suits also allege New Life sold tires made in 2001 to the Paynes three months before the crash.

Collier sheriff's Deputy Steven Alexander, a father figure to Janelle, represents her estate and parents. Their attorney, William S. Williams of West Palm Beach, declined to comment while the case is pending. Coral Gables attorneys Julie Braman Kane, who represents the Paynes, and attorney Manny Vazquez, the local tire retailers' lawyer, couldn't be reached.

Court records show Ford blames the teens for not wearing seat belts, Cooper for a defective tire and New Life, Gluri and LTA for selling Payne an old tire that may have been improperly installed.

Cooper Tire is pointing the blame at Ford, New Life, LTA and Gluri, and suggesting other vehicles may have caused the crash.

In 2000, Ford and the Firestone tires it was equipped with were targets of a congressional investigation that prompted Ford to redesign the Explorer after more than 100 people died due to rollovers involving tire problems. Even after the tires were recalled, Explorer deaths due to tire blowouts and separations continued — safety advocates say all SUVs are prone to tipping due to high centers of gravity. Ford and tire manufacturers have blamed drivers for overcorrecting their steering.

For the 2002 model, Ford added independent rear suspension and increased the distance between the wheels by roughly three inches, making it less prone to rollover. But rollover deaths and injuries continued and in 2005, an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety report showed two-wheel-drive Explorers manufactured between 1999 and 2002 had the fourth-highest driver death rate out of 47 SUVs, prompting consumer safety groups to demand a recall.

"Cooper, Firestone, Michelin, whatever tire you have, if you have a sudden loss of pressure from a blowout or a tread separation, then you can have a loss of control," said Houston attorney David Willis, whose work gathering evidence against Ford Explorer and Firestone led to one of the largest tire recalls and earned him a 2001 public service award. "You can have that with any SUV with a high center of gravity.

"With a rear tire, you have no control," he said of a blowout or tread separation on any vehicle. "It controls you."

Willis said Ford Explorers have improved and new models have an electric-stability computer to warn drivers, which safety groups believe will save 60 to 70 percent of lives.

Willis and Kaster are known nationally for multimillion-dollar wins involving Ford Explorer, Firestone, Cooper and other tires, and SUVs over several decades.

Willis details his cases, Explorer and tire problems on rolloverlawyer.com, while Kaster lists cases, defects and internal memos on tirefailures.com.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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