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Ford Settles Many Rollover Cases

Dec 30, 2005 | The Billings Gazette,

Peace on earth, good will to men and a bunch of alpha male lawyers cozying up like reasonable folks to settle lawsuits worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Hey, maybe there is something special about the holiday spirit after all.

A Texas lawyer and Ford Motor Company, whose ferocious legal wrangling in South Texas drew national attention in recent months, spent December sorting things out.

"There has been settlement of nine cases, and I know Ford and lawyer are going to be sitting down and talking about some other cases," said Ford lawyer David Prichard.

Prichard, who several months ago accused Watts of pursuing a "jihad" against the auto maker, struggled to explain the sudden - and perhaps only temporary cessation of hostilities.

"I don't think it represents a dramatic change at Ford, which has always been willing to talk about reasonably resolving cases," Prichard said.

Until recently, Ford and the lawyer tended to duke out every case in court.

Among the cases recently settled were three that had resulted in jury verdicts totaling $100 million against Ford.

One of them, a case in Crystal City that resulted in a $31 million verdict against Ford, was also an embarrassment to Watts because of irregularities with the jury and with legal representation of Ford's co-defendant. Ford had appealed that case, claiming the verdict was tainted.

The texas, who has created a profitable cottage industry suing Ford for rollover accidents involving its SUVs, had about 40 cases pending against the auto company, with a dozen or more set to go to trial this year.

He said Ford's policy of refusing to settle resulted in many cases going to trial. But, that changed, he said, when the auto company sent out feelers late this year.

"They called one of my lawyers in Houston and said they wanted to have a meeting. They wanted to talk about every case we had," he said.

"It started off with a good bit of confrontation and mistrust, but both sides committed to work through that," he said. "The hope was that we could do a business deal, and hopefully we got that."

Because the settlements were confidential, neither side would discuss how many millions of dollars changed hands.

"We have a large number of cases against Ford on file, and about 10 of them are set for trial between now and June," he said. "If Ford wants to resolve them on terms that are acceptable to our clients, we're certainly ready."

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