Court Rejects Class Status for Lawsuits Against Ford, Firestone
Thursday, May 2, 2002 08:12 PM ET
Dow Jones Newswires
CHICAGO -- A federal appeals court here overturned Thursday a ruling that would have allowed more than three million Ford Explorer owners to sue Ford Motor Co. (F, news, msgs) and Bridgestone Corp.'s Firestone unit for financial losses as part of a single group.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the two companies that a single class-action suit wouldn't be manageable, given the differences in state laws where the plaintiffs reside.
The claims of financial loss are from people who purchased Ford Explorers made between 1991 and 2001 and that had Firestone Wilderness tires.
The ruling doesn't affect hundreds of pending personal injury lawsuits related to alleged defects in the vehicles and tires. The appeals court looked at suits where consumers suffered only financial loss.
"It is the class of persons whose tires did not fail, whose vehicles did not roll over," the court said. "Financial loss was suffered in the places where the vehicles were purchased at excessive prices or resold at depressed prices."
The court reversed a decision made in November in Federal District Court in Indianapolis that suggested forming two classes of plaintiffs -- one for buyers of Ford Explorers and one for buyers of Firestone Wilderness tires.
Ford and Firestone Thursday said in statements they were pleased with the court's ruling. Firestone called the appeals court's opinion "thoughtful and well-reasoned."
"The issues and circumstances involved in these no-injury lawsuits are far too varied to justify class certification," Bridgestone/Firestone said.
Ford said the companies already have addressed product safety by replacing 30 million tires on Ford Explorers. Ford also said that government studies have deemed safe the four million Explorers now on the road.
Reuters reported that the lead attorney for the plaintiffs said he would form a task force to take the cases to various state courts.
In its ruling, the appeals court found that "no class action is proper unless all litigants are governed by the same legal rules." They noted that state laws vary on legal questions about warranties, fraud and product-liability suits.
The court also said that, as a practical matter, it ignored in its ruling suits related to defects where plaintiffs suffered injury or death because "they are sure to opt out and litigate independently".
The court said the suits included plaintiffs from all 50 U.S. states and some U.S. territories.
An attorney for the plaintiffs couldn't immediately be reached for comment.