Ford Sanctioned Over Van Test
Judge orders release of safety research to lawsuit plaintiffsJan 30, 2002 | AP
A federal judge on Tuesday ordered Ford Motor Co. to turn over safety data on its 15passenger vans,
information the company has claimed doesn't exist and fined the automaker for concealing evidence, a plaintiffs' attorney said.
The world's second-largest automaker is accused of hiding the evidence in a case involving the deaths of two passengers in one of the large vans when it flipped on a Kentucky highway in 1996. Thirteen people from Illinois were aboard.
Tuesday's ruling in Chicago on a motion to impose sanctions against Ford could have implications in other cases against the automaker involving E350 vans, which have come under government scrutiny because of numerous rollover accidents.
James Lowe of Cleveland, an attorney for some of the plaintiffs, said U.S. District Judge Robert Gettlemen ordered Ford to pay all costs in the plaintiffs' attempts to obtain the safety records. The amount of that fine was not specified.
More importantly, Lowe said, Gettlemen said he would inform the jury at trial that Ford's own records apparently showed the 15-passenger vans were not reasonably safe or stable.
The case, filed in 1998, is scheduled for trial Feb. 24. Ford has until Jan. 31 to turn over the safety testing records.
"It's minimum justice as far as I'm concerned, but I'm feeling very vindicated," Lowe said. "We had been yelling for a long time that Ford was not playing fair ... and now they're going to pay a price."
Ford's only immediate comment was what it has said all along about the van: The company remains confident that it's a very safe vehicle.
Ford has denied allegations it misled the court.
Despite the judge's decision to alert jurors of the hidden safety records, Ford still will be able to present evidence at the trial to defend the van's safety.
At issue in the motion for sanctions was whether Ford conducted certain safety testing on the vehicles several years ago, then hid the results from the court and plaintiffs' lawyers.
Ford says the testing in question was not done on a production version of the van but on "a rudimentary, cobbled model and was not representative of any production vehicle."
Company spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes said Friday the plaintiffs were seeking results of testing that did not apply to the van involved in the 1996 accident.
Last year the government renewed a safety warning for 15passenger vans, which often are used by churches, sports teams and other groups.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said the vans have a dramatically higher risk of rollovers when fully loaded and should be operated only by experienced drivers.