Ford reaches settlement in sudden-acceleration trial
February 13, 2003
BY MARGARET CRONIN FISK
DEARBORN, Mich. -- Ford Motor Co., the world's second-largest automaker, reached a confidential settlement with three people who said the cruise control in a Lincoln Town Car malfunctioned, leading to a fatal accident outside a Tennessee church.
Plaintiffs Daniel Emert and Thelma Henry were injured and Ann Emert was killed in the October 1994 accident. They sued Ford, alleging that the 1991 Town Car had inadvertently accelerated when the driver turned on the ignition. Ford settled yesterday, just before closing arguments were scheduled in the trial.
The lawsuit is one of several that say there are defects in the cruise control mechanisms in Ford vehicles, said plaintiffs' attorney Thomas Murray of Sandusky, Ohio. A similar claim against General Motors Corp. in December resulted in an $80 million verdict, the largest in a sudden-acceleration case.
"The way juries are today, for tactical reasons, Ford wants to settle rather than risk a big verdict," said David B. Healy, an auto industry analyst with New York's Burnham Securities Inc. who said the number of lawsuits involving unintended acceleration doesn't pose a threat.
Ford denies liability in the Tennessee case and in other sudden acceleration lawsuits, said company spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes. "This vehicle was examined after the accident and there was no malfunction. There is no defect in the cruise control," she said. The accident was caused by "pedal misapplication," she said.
"Ford always says it's pedal misapplication by the drivers," said plaintiffs' attorney Timothy Priest of Knoxville, Tennessee. "We said it's cruise control malfunction."
The accident occurred outside the Rockford Baptist Church in Rockford, Tennessee, a small town near Knoxville. The driver, June Tipton, "turned on the ignition, put the car in gear, took off and six seconds later a woman was dead," said Murray.
Ford began negotiating shortly after Tennessee Circuit Court Judge Dale Young rejected the company's motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages, Priest said.
The plaintiffs had been seeking $30 million in compensatory and $300 million in punitive damages. The amount of the settlement is confidential. Priest called the amount "substantial."
Ford previously settled during trial with another plaintiff who had been injured in the crash. The terms of that settlement are also confidential. Young dismissed a claim against the driver of the Town Car during the trial.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....