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A Texas jury Monday said Ford Motor Co., the second-largest U.S. automaker, should pay $30.4 million in the death of a 16-year-old girl in a 2004 pickup truck rollover accident.
The family of the girl, Jessica Garcia, said the roof was crushed when the truck rolled, allowing slack in the seat belt. The belt failed to keep her in the truck, and her head hit the roadway, the suit said. The girl died three weeks later.
''Ford did no testing with respect to its seat belt's performance during rollover events,'' said the Garcia family's attorney, Hunter Craft.
''There were no design or performance specifications regarding its belts during rollovers,'' he added
The lawsuit is one of several hundred facing automakers saying that inadequate roof strength increases the risk of injury in rollover accidents. These suits include claims that the roofs hit drivers or passengers, causing injuries, or that crushed roofs lead to seat belt failure.
Ford will appeal, said a company spokeswoman, Kathleen Vokes. The company said the vehicle wasn't defective and the girl wasn't wearing her seat belt.
''Miss Garcia died because of the negligence of another driver, Vokes said. ''This is another tragic reminder that seat belts can help save lives only when they are worn.''
The Brownsville, Texas, jury awarded $20.4 million in actual damages and $10 million in punitive damages. The jury awarded $10 million to the child's mother, $10 million to her estate and $416,476 for medical expenses. Immediately after the verdict, both sides said the verdict was slightly higher, $30.5 million.
''The Garcia family feels that justice was served,'' Craft said. ''The jury found the entire vehicle was defective and unreasonably dangerous.''
Shares of Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford rose 2 cents to $9.89 at 1:54 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.
Ford is the No. 2 U.S. automaker behind Detroit-based General Motors Corp.
The case is Garcia v. Ford Motor Co., 2004-04-2099-A, District Court, Cameron County, Texas (Brownsville).