Columbus’ lead attorney in $1.7 billion product liability verdict against Ford Motor Company

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — A Columbus attorney was at the center of a landmark Gwinnett County product liability verdict against Fort Motor Co. on August 19.

Trial attorney Jim Butler was lead counsel when a jury in Gwinnett County State Court awarded $1.7 billion to the two children of a Macon County, Georgia couple , killed in a rollover accident.

The verdict against Ford is notable for its size, but it’s not the first time Butler has scored big in the courtroom.

He has eight verdicts over $100 million. And he owned the previous state record, $454 million against Time Warner for his management of Six Flags over Georgia.

Georgian farmers Melvin and Voncile Hill were killed in 2014 when their 2002 Ford F-250 was involved in a rollover accident in Sumter County.

The roof of the truck collapsed during this accident. Butler argued to the jury that the roof had failed due to faulty design – and Ford knew it.

The jury returned with $1.7 billion in punitive damages against Michigan-based Ford Motor Company.

“Verdicts like this save lives,” Butler said. “There is no doubt about it. The question is how much.

Butler told the 12-person jury that despite the vehicle failing Ford’s internal tests, the company continued to sell the trucks.

“And the fact is, people are going to continue to be killed, crippled or seriously injured in these trucks and will do so as long as they’re on the road,” Butler said. “And I think that’s what happened to the jury.”

And Butler wasn’t Columbus’s only connection to the lawsuit.

“We put Joshua Brooks, of Columbus State University who is a professor of finance, testified about Ford’s last four Form 10-K submissions to the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) and showed that Ford was worth $58 billion,” Butler said. . “And had a policy of keeping $20 billion in cash at all times. So the jury had to decide how much is enough to punish past wrongdoings and stop future wrongdoings.

Ford said it would appeal the verdict and in a statement to The Associated Press earlier this week, the Michigan automaker said the evidence did not support the massive verdict awarded to Hill’s children.

Butler did a double take when he saw the verdict last Friday afternoon.

“The judge read the verdict form on the bench and then handed it to the bailiff for the lawyers to review to ensure it was in proper form, which is usual,” Butler said. “And, as I walked up to look at it, my co-lawyer said, ‘Did he say billion or million?’ So I had to look at it twice to be sure I could see the B.”

The children of The Hill have been pushing for an important verdict, Butler said.

“My clients wanted to get a big verdict for punitive damages to try to stop the murder,” he said. “And, so, I was very happy for them because that’s what they work for, and we’ve been working for eight years.”

The case originally went to trial in 2018, but ended in a mistrial.

Butler said jurors he spoke to afterward swore at him for continuing to insist on what he called a faulty roof.

“They said, ‘You know, it didn’t take long to figure out that it’s flawed,'” Butler said.

Butler’s company is Butler Prather, which has offices in Columbus, Atlanta and Savannah. He is 71 years old and has practiced law for 45 years.