Mid-South boy takes on automobile company after becoming paralyz - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Mid-South boy takes on automobile company after becoming paralyzed in car crash

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(WMC-TV) – In 18 years of life, Billy Meals has come a long way - all the way to the National Wheelchair Basketball Association national tournament.

"I want to win more than anything," Meals said.

On the court, he's a fierce competitor, and his teammates look to him to lead.

"I can do just about anything anybody else can do," he said. "Try to get them going, and tell them to keep hope and keep trying cause I'm the oldest on the team so all the other ones are young, they're like 8th grade or freshmen so I try to teach them as much as I know."

Billy Meals' love for basketball started at an early age. He got his first basketball goal at age 6, just weeks before his life changed forever.

In January 2002, a drunk driver hit the Mercury Grand Marquis Meals was riding in, killing his father and grandfather and paralyzing him from the waist down. 

"Growing up without a father, that's probably the hardest," Billy said. "That's harder than being in a wheelchair ‘cause your father is someone you look up to, you know.  Every kid looks up to his dad."

Weeks after the crash, Billy and his mom met attorney Houston Gordon and filed suit against Ford Motor Company.

After a seven and a half week trial, Gordon convinced a jury the seat belt in the back of that Ford where Billy was riding did not do its job.

"Ford's president at the time referred to them as the forgotten children and a lot of articles and cases have referred to them as children who were in the child safety gap," Houston Gordon said.

Gordon argued the three point seat belt didn't fit small children less than five feet tall.

He says because of that, many children would put the upper part of the seat belt behind them, using the lap belt as their only restraint.

Gordon argued that lap belt literally cut Billy Meals in half.

"The lap belt basically caused him to jackknife over the belt, so his back went like that," he said.

A jury delivered a 43 million dollar verdict against Ford. On appeal, a judge reduced that amount to 12.9 million dollars.  Now the case is in the hands of the Tennessee Supreme Court, who will ultimately decide how much Ford Motor Company will pay.

As a result of injuries like Billy's, car manufacturers pushed for legislation requiring children ride in booster seats and more car models became equipped with five-point safety harnesses for children.

11 years after the accident that changed him forever, Billy Meals finds solace on the basketball court.

He wants to play in college and coach others just like him.

"Help other people, in similar situations, and let them know that it's alright and you can overcome this," Billy said. "It'll make you a better person."

Ford declined to comment on this story, saying they cannot comment on pending litigation.

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