Ford sued over officer's death
By PAULINE GREENBERG
When 6,200 pounds of truck landed on Jason Conklin's chest, the 22-year-old knew he was going to die, his family says in a lawsuit filed Monday.
The family of the rookie Tuxedo Park police officer is suing the Ford Motor Co. and Metro Ford Sales Inc. for $80 million plus punitive damages.
According to the lawsuit, Conklin suffered, "tremendous anxiety and emotional and psychological pain and stress in contemplation of his impending death." Conklin was killed in a rollover while in pursuit of a speederin Tuxedo Park.
Conklin's family is seeking justice for the death of their youngest son. "It's not about dollars," his father, Harold Conklin said. "It's about Jason."
His mother, Sondra Conklin, said the family wants the companies to feel responsible for the accident."They cheated Jason from his life," she said.
Ford Motor Co. lawyer Paul Grant said the company's investigation found nothing wrong with the Expedition. "We have no comment. Do not call the office again," said a spokesman for Metro Ford Sales in Schenectady.
The lawsuit cites four counts of wrongful death because of Ford's negligence, strict product liability and breach of implied and expressed warranties. The family is seeking survival damages on the same four counts and have asked for punitive damages against Ford.
Conklin was on traffic patrol in the department's new 1997 Ford Expedition on Aug. 21, when the rear axle broke, causing the vehicle to roll over, according to the lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court in Goshen.
When the truck rolled, Conklin was tossed out of the driver's side window and the truck landed on him. The first witnesses said Conklin died shortly after the accident.
The truck's rear axle broke because the metal was defective, said Bill DeProspo, the lawyer representing the Conklin family. Reconstruction experts for the Conklin family and eyewitness testimony show that the Expedition's axle broke while it was in motion – sending the wheel up into the wheel well.
Physical evidence supports the experts, DeProspo said. Ford officials believe the accident happened differently. Conklin was driving too fast for road conditions, Grant said. The accident was due to driver error, he added.
The 1997 Ford Expedition is a first-year model for the manufacturer. There are more than 150,000 Expeditions on the road. The huge sports utility vehicle is built on the body of the F-Series truck chassis, according to Ford spokesman Jim Bright. The August 1996 launch of the Expedition has been one of the most successful for the company, he added.
But it hasn't been without its problems. In February 1997, a recall was issued on more than 25,000 Expeditions because of faulty or missing welds in the rear axle. Last month, reports of lug nuts fracturing in 36 vehicles were reported in the national media.
Although those defects are important, they don't apply to this case, DeProspo said. Instead, he blames the strength of the axle metal.
"This whole accident was caused by the vehicle," said Steven Conklin, Jason's brother.
Mrs. Conklin said she has to fight her motherly instinct every time she sees a young mother with her children getting into an Expedition. "I want to stop and tell her, but she'd just think I was crazy," Mrs. Conklin said.