The lawyers were paid millions of dollars. Ford Motor Co. put behind it a costly lawsuit connected to the Explorer rollover scandal of the 1990s. And the judge closed out a complex case that clogged the Sacramento County Superior Court's overburdened calendar for more than seven years.
Everyone seemingly got some tangible benefit — except for nearly all of the 1 million consumers covered by the class action lawsuit filed in their name. None of the consumers got money, only discount coupons toward new Ford purchases. Few used them.
The practice of settling class action lawsuits by doling out discount coupons rather than cash has come under fire from tort reform activists and others who complain that such lawsuits mainly benefit the lawyers — and even the companies being sued — at the expense of their clients.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge David De Alba authorized the settlement of a class action that lawyers argued could be worth as much as $500 million to people who owned Ford Explorers during the 1990s.
In exchange for dropping the lawsuit that alleged rollover problems unfairly diminished the resale value of Explorers, Ford customers could receive a $500 discount coupon toward the purchase of a new SUV or a $300 coupon to buy another Ford vehicle. Consumers had until April 29, 2008 to apply for the coupons.
De Alba awarded the lawyers $25 million in fees and expenses after presiding over a 50-day trial without a jury in 2007. The case settled before the judge reached a verdict.