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November 17, 2005

Driver falls asleep at wheel; Ford held liable...

MIAMI (Reuters) - A jury has ordered Ford Motor Co. to pay $61 million to the parents of a 17-year-old who died when the Ford Explorer in which he was riding rolled over, a lawyer said on Thursday.

Ford said it would appeal the verdict.

Florida attorney Bruce Kaster said the ruling in favor of his clients turned on the sport utility vehicle's stability and handling and cleared the way for similar trials against Ford to proceed in Florida, Mississippi and California.

Kaster said the Miami jury award exposed "the myth that the problem with the Explorer was a tire problem."

"It's not," Kaster told Reuters. "It's a stability and handling problem."

In the Florida case, teenager Lance Hall was a passenger in the Explorer his friend was driving when it flipped over on Alligator Alley between Naples and Miami in 1997.

The jury awarded his mother and father, who are divorced, $61 million in compensatory damages.

Ford executives told the U.S. Congress that rollover problems associated with older models of the Explorer SUV were linked to Firestone tires. But Kaster said Ford engineers testified during the trial that they knew in 1989 that the vehicle's chassis needed to be widened and lowered.

The model was redesigned in 2001.

In a statement, Ford expressed its condolences to Hall's family, but said the accident occurred when the driver of the Explorer fell asleep at the wheel.
"We believe strongly in our products and we will appeal the verdict."

(Additional reporting by Michael Connor in Miami)

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