Ford goes to trial in suit claiming faulty police cars
Lawyers, police across nation watch as Ill. case unfolds.
Tom Strickland / Bloomberg News
Ford has about 85 percent of the market for police vehicles in the United States, including the Indianapolis Police Department.
By Margaret Cronin Fisk / Bloomberg News
BELLEVILLE, Ill. - Ford Motor Co., North America's second-largest automaker, went on trial Monday to answer allegations that it made a police cruiser that exploded in high-speed rear-end collisions and misrepresented the vehicle as safe.
Illinois police departments, suing as a group, claim that Ford's Crown Victoria Police Interceptor is vulnerable to fuel-fed fires following rear-end collisions because the gas tank is placed behind the rear axle. The departments said in court documents that an alternative placement of the gas tank or a shield on the tank could have prevented deaths and injuries to police officers in post-collision fires.
The lawsuit, being tried in Belleville, Ill., is the first to go to trial of more than a dozen class actions brought against Ford by police agencies over the Crown Victoria. Such suits are also pending in New Jersey, Texas, Louisiana and at least 12 other states.
Lawyers and police officials in the other states are watching the Illinois case, said attorney Michael Ryan, who represents Florida police departments suing Ford.
"A favorable result will certainly embolden the existing police departments and lead to new police department lawsuits," Ryan said. "But an unfavorable result will not deter the police departments from seeking trial dates in their local jurisdictions. The police departments that filed lawsuits against Ford are extraordinarily unhappy with Ford's response to the risks presented by this car to their officers."
The trial began Monday with jury selection.
Lawyers for Illinois police departments said in interviews before the trial that company documents and depositions of Ford executives support their claims of defect and fraud.
Ford attorney Doug Lampe said there is no defect or fraud and that many of the departments suing Ford continue to order Crown Victorias from the company.
"The police interceptor is the vehicle-of-choice for police departments, including Mr. Perry's clients," Lampe said. "They apparently don't believe his allegations either."
Ford has about 85 percent of the market for police vehicles in the United States. The market share hasn't changed since the filing of lawsuits, Lampe said. About 350,000 of the vehicles are still owned by police departments, according to Ford.
The Illinois police departments are seeking damages for the cost of retrofitting police cars, as well as punitive damages, said Patricia Murphy, one of their attorneys.