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Ford Faces Sanctions

Lawyers Say It Held Back Van Test Data

Jan 18, 2003 | Detroit Free Press

A federal judge won't decide until at least Tuesday whether to impose sanctions on Ford Motor Co. for allegedly withholding evidence in lawsuits involving testing of its 15-passenger vans.

U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman in Chicago on Friday delayed a decision until hearings continue on Tuesday. James Lowe, an attorney seeking the sanctions against Ford, said the sanctions could vary from a fine to a default judgment on liability.

One of the lawsuits involves the deaths of two passengers in a Ford large van when it flipped on a Kentucky highway on July 5, 1996. The van was carrying a church group on its way back to Illinois after a trip to Washington, D.C.

Sheila Johnson, one of the plaintiffs, was severely injured in the crash and lives in a nursing home. Julia Whitley was ejected and killed. according to attorneys. Daniel Whitley, Julia's husband, is also a plaintiff.

Lowe said Ford denied that it had used a computer application, dubbed ADAMS, to determine whether the 15-passenger vans were subject to rollover. Lawyers, however, discovered that Ford used the computer test after a judge ordered that the company turn over all its documents involving the 15-passenger vans. Testing showed that the van's wheels lifted off the ground, indicating a rollover risk.

Ford also met with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in August 2001 and didn't disclose the testing results to the agency, Lowe said.

"I see it as a corporate scandal as with all the others we have uncovered," Lowe said. "Somebody has to catch them and somebody has to do something about it."

Ford denies that it misled the court.

"Ford did not conduct ADAMS testing or modeling on a current or previous E350 15-passenger van that was in production," the company said in a statement. "The ADAMS testing that was completed was done on a rudimentary, cobbled model and was not representative of any production vehicle."

Ford, which holds an 85 percent share of the 15-passenger van market with part of its Econoline Series, has said that it is exploring safety recommendations that the National Transportation Safety Board made in November, some of which are related to the vehicle's brakes.

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