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No money paid out for Fords that stall

Settlement under fire
October 25, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO -- One year ago, attorneys emerged from a California judge's chambers and announced a historic, pro-consumer settlement of a lawsuit accusing Ford of producing millions of defective vehicles prone to stalling.

But not one consumer has benefited from the accord, which at the time of its Oct. 25, 2001, signing was thought to have ended seven years of combative litigation between the automaker and lawyers.

Instead of reimbursing its customers who paid or will pay about $200 to replace thick film ignition (TFI) modules that fail, as the agreement requires, Ford and plaintiffs' attorneys are defending their settlement before a state appellate court.

Attacking the settlement, which could cost Ford more than $2 billion, are attorneys who did not participate in the case but are objecting to the deal on the grounds it jeopardizes public safety and should be redrafted.

Among other complaints, the objectors say the deal allows some 12 million Ford vehicles -- that could stall at any time -- to remain on the nation's roads.

Yet Ford and the attorneys suing the company aren't budging on their deal.

They say the deal was the best result, given that Ford has repeatedly denied it sold defective vehicles and was willing to challenge in the courts any findings that its vehicles were defective.

A California judge ordered that 12 million Ford vehicles be recalled after concluding they were defective.

Last year's settlement, which nullified the recall, came two months after it was reported that at least 11 deaths and 31 injuries were blamed on stalling Ford vehicles and the disclosure of internal Ford memos showing the automaker had evidence its ignition design could make hot engines suddenly fail.

The lawsuit challenged Ford's placement of the TFI module, which regulates electric current to the spark plugs.

From 1983 to 1995, in 29 models, including the popular Taurus, Mustang, Escort and Ranger, the ignition module was mounted on the distributor near the engine block, where it was exposed to high temperatures. According to internal documents, Ford had designed it this way to save up to $2 per vehicle and increase fuel economy.

Without the agreement, Ford would have appealed the recall order, and each side was not willing to wait years for a final decision that would make or break the case, lawyers connected to the case say.

Jeff Fazio, the lead attorney who sued Ford and agreed to settle, has defended the deal since it was signed as a compromise a year ago.

He said the real motivation behind the objecting lawyers is they want a piece of the $22 million in attorneys fees the deal awards to Fazio and the other lawyers who sued Ford.

"It's shakedown time," he said. He is urging the 1st District Court of Appeal to promptly dismiss their objections, and he has refused to settle with the objectors out of court. No hearing has been set.

Berkeley attorney Lawrence Schonbrun asserts the deal leaves intact the same safety hazard that Fazio and other attorneys were fighting to get rid of -- 12 million alleged faulty vehicles on the roadways.

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.....
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