Jury Rules Ford Escape Airbag Caused Man to Kill Himself

Jury says Ford Escape airbag caused man's injuries and subsequent suicide, Ford to appeal ruling.

Posted in News

— Ford has lost a South Carolina lawsuit filed by the widow of a man who killed himself following the crash of a Ford Escape.

On February 3, 2011, John Wickersham was involved in a single-vehicle crash while driving his 2010 Ford Escape. Mr. Wickersham tried to make a left turn and went through an intersection, first hitting a curb and then hitting a tree with the passenger-side of the Escape. He suffered a broken upper jaw, busted cheek bones around his left eye, a fractured skull and a ruptured left eye.

After multiple surgeries, Wickersham said he was in constant pain and in November 2011, he lost his left eye and thereafter had trouble working and supporting his family.

In April 2012, Wickersham was admitted to a hospital for suicidal thoughts after telling his wife that she needed to do something or he was going to hurt himself. Hospital staff believed the pain medications Wickersham was taking may have been causing his suicidal thoughts, and after he was removed from the medicines he reported the suicidal thoughts were gone.

However, Mr. Wickersham suffered from pain and withdrawal symptoms due to stopping the medication, causing him to tell his wife that although he wasn't planning on killing himself, he did sometimes think about it.

On July 21, 2012, Mr. Wickersham, 55, committed suicide by overdosing on prescription pain medication, an event his wife blamed on the crash in the Ford Escape. Crystal Wickersham sued Ford after the death of her husband, alleging the airbag in the Escape didn't work properly to protect her husband in the crash.

The plaintiff says her husband “felt like he looked like a monster and was very self-conscious about his disfigurement as a result of the accident,” leaving him contemplating suicide.

The plaintiff contends Mr. Wickersham's injuries were caused by a 146-millisecond delay of the deployment of the airbag when the Escape hit a tree. The delay allegedly allowed Mr. Wickersham to move forward into the airbag deployment zone while it was inflating, causing an impact to his body.

The plaintiff says the only reason her husband killed himself was because of the pain related to the crash, but he wouldn't have been in pain if the airbag would have worked as intended.

During the trial, Ford argued the airbag had nothing to do with Wickersham's suicide because he had a history of mental illness and was diagnosed as bipolar in 2003.

At that time, Wickersham told his wife he had suicidal thoughts and although he later said those thoughts went away, by January 2011 he again sought treatment for depression and suicidal thoughts. A psychiatrist recommended Wickersham be hospitalized in January 2011 because of his suicidal thoughts, but Wickersham refused.

Ford says the medical records make clear that Mr. Wickersham suffered from depression and had suicidal thoughts for years before the crash, including the month before the crash.

In addition to the history of suicidal thoughts and depression, Ford said any injuries caused by the airbag were due to the way Mr. Wickersham was seated in the Escape, with his head much too close to the steering wheel. The automaker says the driver was not paying attention to the road and wasn't restrained properly in the Escape.

After a 10-day trial, the jury awarded $4.6 million to the plaintiff in the suicide of her husband and said Ford was mostly to blame, although they found no evidence Ford caused his injuries or suicide intentionally. Ford says it will appeal the ruling and the $4.6 million award.

The trial was held in the U.S District Court for the District of South Carolina, Beaufort Division - Wickersham v. Ford Motor Company.