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

Trial lawyer Jim Butler was lead counsel when a Gwinnett County State Court jury awarded $1.7 billion dollars to the two children of a Macon County, Georgia couple killed in a roll-over crash. 

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

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

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

The truck’s roof caved in during that crash. Butler argued to the jury that the roof failed because of faulty design – and Ford knew it. 

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

“Verdicts like this save lives,” Butler said. “There ain’t no doubt about that. The question is how many.” 

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

“And the fact is people are going to continue to get killed, get paralyzed or severely injured in these trucks and will as long as they are on the road,” Butler said. “And I think that’s what got to the jury.” 

And Butler wasn’t the only Columbus connection to the trial. 

“We put in Joshua Brooks, from Columbus State University who is a finance professor, testified about the last four form 10-K submissions by Ford 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 on hand at all times. So, the jury had to decide how much is enough to punish the past wrong-doing and stop the future wrongdoing.” 

Ford has said it will 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 the Hill’s children. 

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

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

The Hill’s children pushed hard for a large verdict, Butler said.

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

The case was originally tried in 2018, but it ended in a mistrial.  

Butler said jurors he talked to afterward, gave him some pushback for continuing to harp on what he called a defective roof.

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

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