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Explorer class action may hit Ford hard

  Court Watch  -   POSTED: 2007/05/30 13:37

A lawsuit set for trial next month in Sacramento, Calif., claims Ford Motor Co. deceived consumers about the safety of its Explorer sport-utility vehicles and threatens more than $2 billion in profits Ford earned from Explorers built in the 1990s and sold in California. The class action, brought on behalf of more than 414,000 Explorer buyers, is so large that it puts the automaker at risk of collapse, a Ford defense lawyer said last week after a final pretrial hearing.

The trial is scheduled to start Monday before Superior Court Judge David DeAlba, who will decide the case without a jury.

Ford lost $12.7 billion last year, said Malcolm Wheeler, a Denver attorney who heads Ford's trial team. "This is a company that has had to lay off thousands of employees, a company struggling with a $3.5-billion negative net worth," Wheeler said.

Tab Turner - a Little Rock, Ark., lawyer who pioneered SUV rollover lawsuits - will be the plaintiffs' lead trial counsel in the Sacramento case. "This vehicle is one of the most dangerous vehicles ever produced in this country," said Turner, who first brought SUV rollover lawsuits involving the Ford Bronco II and Explorers.

Marketed as a replacement for family station wagons, the Explorers built in the 1990s have a tendency to flip over during evasive maneuvers at speeds over 40 mph, he said. Ford knew of the Explorer's problems but decided it was more profitable to produce the vehicle without changing its design, he said.

The class of plaintiffs includes California residents who bought, owned or leased a 1991-2001 model-year Ford Explorer, new or used, between 1990 and Aug. 9, 2000.

The plaintiffs' attorneys claim Ford's deception cost the state's car buyers about $500million because the value of their vehicles fell once the alleged defects became widely known. In addition, the plaintiffs are seeking a return of profits Ford earned from its alleged wrongdoing. According to the plaintiffs' lawyers, Ford reaped profits of $2.135 billion on sales in California from 1990 to 2000.

Ford lawyer Wheeler said it was the tires, not the Explorers, that were the problem and plaintiffs' lawyers were simply trying to extract millions more from Ford. He said the Explorer had been deemed safe by Consumer Reports magazine and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Out of 32 Explorer product-liability cases that had gone to trial, Ford had won 26 of them, he said.


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