$7 Million Awarded by Kanawha jury from Ford to Family of Woman’s Fatal Crash
A Kanawha County jury awarded a Raleigh County family $7 million after they sued Ford Motor Company. They claimed that the company was to blame for their daughter’s death in a 2016 crash involving the daughter’s Mustang and a pickup truck.
Breanna Bumgarner, 19, died on March 22, 2016, after her car was hit in a collision that resulted in a vehicular fire.
Angel Tyler, Bumgarner’s mother and administrator of her estate, filed the complaint against the car company in Kanawha County Circuit Court in March 2018. The lawsuit also named the driver of the other vehicle, Anna Errickson, who was a minor at the time, as well as her parents, Mark and Kristen Errickson.
Anna Errickson was driving a 1989 Toyota pickup west on U.S 33 near Spencer when she veered off the highway, according to the lawsuit. She crossed the centerline as she drove back onto the road, striking Bumgarner’s 2014 Ford Mustang on the front left side.
As a result of the collision, the Mustang caught fire. During closing arguments, Monday attorneys representing Tyler claimed Bumgarner was burned alive after becoming entrapped as a result of the collision.
They claimed that the car’s brake fluid reservoir in the car was not adequately protected from the crash, which caused the fire. They also claimed that the steel used to construct the car’s safety cage, which was supposed to protect the vehicle’s occupants, was made of the same type of steel used in both the front and back “crumple zones” of the car.
They also claimed that the 2011 crash test should have warned Ford that the brake reservoir would be crushed and the dashboard would collapse on the driver, however, Ford continued to manufacture the vehicle in the same manner for three more years.
James Feeney, an attorney representing Ford, argued that the circumstances of the wreck differed from those of the crash test.
“The plaintiff’s case is built entirely upon the performance of the Ford Mustang in what is called the small overlap rigid barrier test. That test is not this accident.” Feeney said. “This accident has nothing to do with that test. Why do I say that? Because the small overlap barrier test does not occur at 40 degrees into the side of a vehicle. It’s not a vehicle-to-vehicle test. The barrier itself is the equivalent of a pole being struck by a car right at the corner of the vehicle. That’s not our accident.”
He argued that Errickson’s pickup truck collided at an angle with the Mustang’s driver-side hinge pillar of the door, causing the door to jam and preventing Bumgarner from fleeing.
“There was not one engineer, not one medic, not one EMT – no one came to you and testified in this courtroom… that…manufacturers are governed by design standards that would require the door to be opened if it is hit at a 40-degree angle by a 3,500-pound light truck at 59 miles an hour,” Feeney said.
The jury determined that the company was negligent in designing the 2014 Mustang with a defect because it was not reasonably safe in preventing leakage from the brake fluid reservoir in the collision. It was also determined that the company’s negligence led to Bumgarner’s death.
The jury found that the car company was 99% at fault for Bumgarner’s death and that Errickson was 1% at fault. Errickson already admitted fault in the case. They also found that the car company was not negligent in designing the Mustang because it did not prevent entrapment during the collision.
They awarded $2 million for Bumgarner’s “conscious pain and suffering” and $5 million for Tyler’s sorrow, mental anguish, and solace in the death of her daughter.
Tyler was represented by Charleston attorneys Farmer, Cline, and Campbell.
“This was a product liability case against a major auto manufacturer,” Biran Bigelow, an attorney with the firm representing Tyler, said, “It was a horrible accident, and we are just grateful that the jury worked so hard and listened to all of the evidence and returned what we believe is a just result for a family that lost a loved one.”
A media representative for Ford indicated that the company could still appeal the jury’s verdict.
“While our sympathies go out to Ms. Bumgarner’s family and we respect the jury’s decision, we do not believe the verdict is supported by the evidence,” Ian Thibodeau, manager of corporate communications for the company, wrote, “We will review options for appeal.”
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