History


Durrill v. Ford Motor Company
Nueces County, Texas
David Perry, Attorney at Law
(exert from case archives)

A rear end collision fire case in which a 1974 Ford Mustang II vehicle exploded into flames. The two occupants of the vehicle, Devary Durrill and Bonnie Watkins, died of burns.

The collision occurred in October, 1978, a few months following a major national recall of the Pinto automobile, to prevent fuel tank fires. The Mustang II was built from the same vehicle platform as the Pinto and contained the same defects. The fuel tank was mounted rear of the axle. In rear impacts the fuel tank would be driven forward into the axle and be punctured by sharp objects on the rear axle and suspension, resulting in loss of fuel and fire. The Mustang II was built with all the same dangerous components as the Pinto (the rear axle, suspension and fuel tank) yet the Mustang II was not included in the National recall.

Mr. Durrill owned a Pinto in his business, which he had fixed under the recall and then sold. He had given the Mustang II to his daughter, Devary, for her birthday and the dealership assured him it was not part of the recall and was safe.

Police Officers and bystanders watched helplessly as Devary’s companion, Bonnie Watkins, trapped in the vehicle, died by fire at the scene. Devary was pulled from the flaming car by a bystander who said she was badly burned and unrecognizable. Devary had 3rd degree burns over 90% of her body, yet survived for 7 days in the burn unit. During those horrific 7 days of burn treatment her parents were able to touch her only on the top of her head. The medical staff was surprised to find that Devary was virtually unhurt other than burn injuries. She had no broken bones, ruptures, or body penetrations and would have easily survived the wreck if not for the explosion and fire from the easily damaged and dangerously unprotected fuel system.

RESULT

The intermediate court of appeals affirmed by liability verdict but further remitted the punitive damages verdict and remitted a portion of the actual damages. The Supreme Court of Texas granted writ of error (consenting to hear the case).

After the Supreme Court granted writ of error, the case settled for a confidential amount; the punitive damages portion of the settlement was recovered by THE DEVARY DURRILL FOUNDATION, a charitable foundation created by the surviving parents.