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An Illinois jury has found that Ford’s Crown Victoria police cruisers are safe, giving the automaker its first win in a series of class actions involving allegations that the police car’s gas tanks are prone to explode after rear-end collisions. The class action plaintiffs, several police departments in Illinois, were seeking $796 million in damages. The suit also alleged that Ford Motor Co. breached warranties and committed fraud by failing to disclose potential dangers. St. Clair Co. and City of Centerville v. Ford, No. 03-L-115, (St. Clair Co., Ill., Cir. Ct.). Similar complaints have been made in class actions pending against Ford in more than a dozen states, including Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi. Several lawyers handling those suits said the Illinois verdict will have no impact on their cases. “The fact that the [Illinois] jury rendered its verdict is not going to alter anybody else,” said Michael Ryan of Krupnick Campbell Malone Buser Slama Hancock Liberman & McKee in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., who is representing Florida law enforcement groups in a class action against Ford. “What that Illinois jury did is not going to stop the sheriffs and counties in other parts of the country from trying to protect their officers,” Ryan said. “All of the departments are strongly committed to taking definitive and necessary steps to make sure Ford, and not the taxpayers, [is] responsible for fixing this car and protecting their officers.” But Ford attorneys see the Illinois verdict as a big victory, and they urge plaintiffs elsewhere to reconsider litigation. “Twelve jurors unanimously agreed that the car is reasonably safe . . . .I would hope that the plaintiffs in the other cases would sit back and consider that maybe it’s time to cooperate and recognize that the car is safe,” said Ford attorney James Feeney of Dykema Gossett in Detroit. Another Ford attorney, Dan Ball of Bryan Cave’s St. Louis office, who also worked on the Illinois case, said the “police car is the only passenger car in the U.S. that is crash tested to a 75 mph standard . . . .I think that was another strong defensive point-that Ford’s testing on this vehicle far exceeded that done by anyone else.” Plaintiffs nationwide are calling on Ford to make safety modifications to the gas tank, which is behind the rear axle. According to lawyers from both sides, at least 14 officers have died since 1983 in fiery crashes after their Crown Victorias were rear-ended. Suggested modifications include adding protective shields or installing new tanks with a bladder, or a protective inner liner. 500,000 police cruisers Ford, which has sold 500,000 Crown Victoria police cruisers in the last two decades and controls roughly 85% of the police car market, maintains the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor is safe. Ford officials have long argued that the Crown Victoria has passed Ford’s 50 mph and 75 mph rear-end crash tests, which exceed federal standards that call for 30 mph tests. Lawyers for Ford also argue that the Crown Victoria is more likely to be involved in an accident because police officers are more likely to travel at high speeds and often park on a road’s shoulder. “Our position was that these were high-speed accidents. Any police vehicle subjected to those sorts of circumstances showed the potential for leakage in a fire. There was no leakproof car out there . . . and it sounds to me like the jury accepted that,” Feeney said. The Illinois plaintiff’s attorney, David Perry of Perry & Haas in Corpus Christi, Texas, did not return calls for comment. Lawyers involved in other Ford suits are expecting an appeal in the Illinois case. Despite the jury’s verdict, they strongly believe that the Crown Victoria is unsafe, and urge Ford either to move the gas tank or pay to protect it. “I don’t care if it costs $100 or $5,000. All I want them to do is make the car as safe as they say it is,” said attorney Duke Williams, who is representing more than a dozen Louisiana sheriff’s departments suing Ford. “I was disappointed to hear about [the Illinois verdict] but it doesn’t dampen or lessen our resolve to continue forward.” Williams of St. Martin & Williams in Houma, La., said plaintiffs in the Louisiana suit allege the Crown Victoria is not what Ford represented it to be, and are asking Ford either to fix the problem or refund a portion of the purchase price.

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