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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Ford to Settle Sport Utility Rollover Case

Vehicle Owners Will Apply for Vouchers Towards New Explorer Vehicles

Recently, Ford Motor Co. and an attorney for the plaintiffs said that the automaker agreed to settle class-action lawsuits covering plaintiffs in four states who charged that Ford's Explorer sport utility vehicles were susceptible to rollovers.

Kevin P. Roddy, a New Jersey attorney and co-counsel for the SUV owners who brought the lawsuit, said that the settlement applies to roughly 1 million people in California, Connecticut, Illinois and Texas. The settlement will be filed later Wednesday in Sacramento County Superior Court, Roddy said.

Roddy told the Associated Press that the settlement will let vehicle owners apply for $500 vouchers to buy new Explorers or $300 vouchers to buy other Ford or Lincoln Mercury vehicles.

Roddy said the settlements apply to Explorers in model years 1991 through 2001.

Consumers will be able to apply for the vouchers through a Web site soon if a California judge gives preliminary approval to the resolution. Roddy said the parties plan to ask Superior Court Judge David De Alba to give final approval during a hearing in April, after those covered by the settlement have had time to request the vouchers.

According to terms of the settlement, Ford will also be required to make available information about the rollover dangers of sport utility vehicles, and to curb safety claims in its advertising.

Ford has been confronted with wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits throughout the USA stemming from a series of rollover accidents that involved previous versions of its popular Explorer model.

After receiving numerous complaints in 2000, the federal government began investigating the Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. tires that had been standard equipment on Explorers.

Over 250 people died and hundreds more were injured in accidents involving tread separation on the tires, most of which were on Explorers at the time they failed. Each company blamed the other for the rollover deaths, with Bridgestone/Firestone claiming that the Explorers' earlier design was faulty.

Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley said that the agreement, announced in California, ends all the outstanding lawsuits against Ford stemming from the Explorer rollovers.

Kinley would not reveal how much Ford has paid to settle earlier claims. She said customers involved in the four-state settlement would be notified in late December and early January.

In a telephone interview, Kinley said, "Ford's position on this is we feel this is fair and reasonable, and in the best interest of our customers."

The first of the four lawsuits was filed in 2000. The parties announced in October that they were close to a settlement.

Roddy said that many of the Explorers owned by the plaintiffs had been purchased between 1990 and 2000 and are not on the road any longer.

The parties will announce a toll-free number and Internet site for customers, followed by the mailed notices to Explorer owners, if the judge approves the preliminary settlement.

Roddy said that the vouchers can be used not only by plaintiffs' family members, but also may be transferred to anyone in the vehicle owner's state.

"You can give it to your neighbor if he's in the market," said Roddy.

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