Illinois Civil Justice League: Cities can't afFord lawsuit over Crown Vics

March 22, 2005

Cities can't afFord lawsuit over Crown Vics

After a jury took only 2 hours last October to clear Ford Motor Company of any liability in a case over the safety of the Crown Victoria police cars, municipalities are feeling the sting of the lingering litigation.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Illinois municipalities are working hard to get out of their class action suit - brought in ATRA #2 Hellhole St. Clair County - because Ford is unwilling to sell anymore Crown Victorias to any of the municipality plaintiffs.

Although the jury ruled the cars safe, a St. Clair County judge is still weighing the consumer fraud portion of the case.

According to the Tribune:

Illinois is the only state with a class-action suit involving law-enforcement agencies, including the City of Chicago. But since 2002, 75 municipalities in 20 states have sued Ford, saying that when the Crown Vic is struck from behind at high speeds, the fuel tank, which is between the rear axle and the bumper, can be punctured easily and leak gas.

In the last 20 years, a dozen officers have died and 10 have been severely burned nationwide in fiery rear-end crashes.

Despite the crash numbers, police say there's nothing like the Crown Vic, with its roomy interior and powerful engine. Since Chevrolet stopped making the Caprice squad car in 1999, the Crown Vic has been the only rear-wheel-drive vehicle available, police say.

Statistics bear out its popularity: Eighty-five percent of police agencies in the nation use the Crown Vic.

According to the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor website:

There have been no accidents or injuries in the state of Illinois. This case was a class-action trial based on the value of after-market equipment sought by plaintiffs and did not have anything to do with personal injury.

This case was about plaintiffs' lawyers representing Illinois officers that have had no accidents, asking for compensation for equipment that was not ordered, not paid for, and that does not add to the safety of the vehicle.

But, according to the AP story, the plaintiffs' attorney thinks Ford should keep feeding the hand that is biting them:

"I think it's coercion by Ford," said Trisha Murphy, a plaintiffs' attorney involved in the lawsuit.

The attorney for Ford counters: "The bottom line is either they are serious about the lawsuit and the claims in the lawsuit or they're not," he said. "If you think the vehicle is unsafe — we don't — but if you do, don't expect us to supply you vehicles."

A website dedicated to a "Safety Alert" for the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, which claims to be "sponsored by law enforcement officers and families affected by defect" hasn't been updated since September 27, about the time the case was set to go to trial in St. Clair County. Information and e-mail contacts on the site are directed to David Perry, the lead partner of Perry Haas law firm in Corpus Christi, TX.

A 2002 story reports that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) cleared Ford in its investigation: "The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the car exceeds federal standards for fuel system safety and the rate of fires was no greater than with Chevrolet Caprice police cars."

Back to the AP story:

Deputy Police Chief Dave Scanlan said he did not even know his department was part of the lawsuit because he never saw a letter informing the city it would be included unless it expressly declined. The department found out about it when it was time to buy more squad cars.

"We woke up and Ford wouldn't sell us any Crown Vics," he said.

What did you expect, Ford to start discounting its products to people suing them? If municipalities wait long enough, they'll probably be awarded coupons anyway...


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