In 2002, Benetta Buell-Wilson was driving her 1997 Ford Explorer in Southern California when she swerved to avoid debris on the freeway. The high center of gravity of the SUV and the quick steering input caused the Explorer to roll four-and-a-half times, eventually coming to rest on its roof. The impact caused the roof to collapse, crushing Mrs. Buell-Wilson's neck and paralyzing her from the waist down. The subsequent lawsuit, claiming that Ford manufacturered a faulty roof, awarded her $369 million dollars, of which $246 million was classified as punitive damages. In the proceeding cases, that figure was cut down twice by a California state appeals court to $82.6 million.
On Monday, the Supreme Court ordered the state appeals court to review the decision, using the court's decision to overturn $79.5 million in punitive damages awarded during the highly-publicized tobacco case that was heard earlier this year. The rational being that the jury can punish a defendant only for the harm done to the plaintiff and not to the other people affected.
Ford claims that the roof was designed to meet federal safety standards and that no wrongdoing had taken place. This is one of many cases that Ford has had to defend over the past several years.