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Dozens of Illinois police departments that sued Ford alleging that the Crown Victoria police cruiser is unsafe have opted out of the lawsuit because they need new police cars—and Ford won’t sell them any unless they drop out of the suit. In the last four months, 200 Illinois police agencies have opted out of the state class action. Another 80 have filed motions to drop out and are scheduled to be heard on April 14. [NLJ, 10-25-04.] And elsewhere in the country, in the seven states where lawsuits against Ford involving the Crown Victoria are pending, several other plaintiffs have recently dropped out, including Indianapolis; Nueces County, Texas; and some Louisiana municipalities. Crown Victoria Interceptors are the vehicle of choice for many police departments across the country. “I think it’s coercion by Ford,” alleged Trisha Murphy, a solo practitioner based in Energy, Ill. , a plaintiffs’ lawyer in the Illinois class action. “I think it’s very unfair, at best, for Ford to put the law enforcement personnel in this position: If you want a new car, then you have to withdraw yourself from this class action.” At issue is Ford’s decision in May 2003 to institute a no-sale policy involving any police department suing Ford over allegations that the Crown Victoria is unsafe because its gas tanks are prone to exploding after rear-end collisions. “It wasn’t, ‘Hey, I have a warranty issue.’ Basically, they were saying that we had a vehicle that wasn’t suitable for police use, so why in the world would we sell them another one?” said Ford attorney Jim Feeney of Detroit’s Dykema Gossett. Ford believes the no-sale policy has been effective. Since 2002, 80 class actions in 20 states were filed against Ford. Today, there are only 12 remaining. “Many times, police chiefs didn’t even know the existence of the lawsuits until they went to buy new cars and they were blocked,” said Doug Lampe, in-house counsel for Ford. “When they learned that they had to make a choice between their lawyer and their car, they chose their car.” Ford attorneys noted that another key factor in the dropout rate is the fact that an Illinois jury in October found that the Crown Victoria is a safe vehicle. That was the first class action involving the Crown Victoria to go to trial. Plaintiffs plan to appeal, and a judge is still considering alleged state consumer fraud violations by Ford. St. Clair Co. and Centerville v. Ford, No. 03-L-115 (St. Clair Co., Ill., Cir. Ct.). But the verdict hasn’t scared everyone away, nor has the no-sale policy. “None of our plaintiffs are opting out . . . .We’re going to buy Chevrolets and continue to sue [Ford],” said Rudolph Westmoreland of Pleasantville, N.J.’s Westmoreland Vesper & Quattrone. His firm is representing Atlantic City, New Brunswick and Linwood, all in New Jersey, in a consumer fraud suit against Ford involving the Crown Victoria. New Brunswick v. Ford, No. 02-3275 (JAG) (D.N.J.). With regard to Ford’s no-sale policy, Westmoreland said, “It’s nothing but coercion.” Indianapolis is out But plaintiffs are still dropping out of the suits. The city of Indianapolis opted out of its lawsuit against Ford last month after the police union voted, 367-90, in favor of dropping the suit. Indianapolis v. Ford, No. 49 D12-0209-PL-1570 (Marion Co., Ind., Super. Ct.). Attorney Kobi Wright, corporation counsel for Indianapolis, said among the union’s considerations was a desire to buy new squad cars. Similar concerns were raised in McHenry County, Ill., where officials recently hired a lawyer to help get nine municipalities out of the lawsuit so they can buy new cars. Attorney Richard Flood, who is representing the McHenry County plaintiffs, said his clients were not actively involved in the lawsuit, but only took part to see what the outcome would be. “If indeed there proved to be any problems with the cars, they wanted to take advantage of any immediate repairs that would have been ordered by the court,” said Flood of Zukowski, Rogers, Flood & McArdle in Crystal Lake, Ill. Flood contends, however, that Ford put the police in a tough spot. “Municipalities were caught in the middle of this,” he said.

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