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Ford Settles SUV Rollover Risk Claims

Dec 20, 2002 | UPI

Ford Motor Co. Friday agreed to pay $51.5 million to the states, District of Columbia, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to settle lawsuits claiming the automaker failed to warn consumers about the rollover danger of the Explorer sport-utility vehicle.

The settlement is similar to a deal reached with state attorneys general last year by tire maker Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Japan's Bridgestone Corp., which recalled 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires in 2000 because of sudden tread failure at highway speed.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced in February an investigation had determined the Explorer was no more susceptible to rollover than comparable mid-sized SUVs made by other companies.

States and the U.S. territories are expected to use part of the settlement to run public service announcements about vehicle safety.

"Ford was pleased to work with the states to resolve any lingering doubts from the tire recall, while taking actions to enhance consumer awareness of safety information and safe driving practices," Ford said in a release. "The states' concern related mostly to marketing practices with respect to SUVs and tires, which are not unique to Ford."

Ford also will share the patented seat belt technology of its Belt-Minder system with competitors and federal safety officials and change its ads showing SUVs climbing mountains or making aggressive maneuvers.

New commercials will have a disclaimer warning viewers the vehicle was driven by a professional driver on a closed course and advise motorists not to attempt high-risk maneuvers.

The settlement does not affect scores of individual personal injury or wrongful death suits filed against Ford. Both Ford and Firestone have settled hundreds of suits with survivors of rollover accidents or their families.

NHTSA has linked 271 deaths and more than 800 injuries to possibly defective Firestone tires, most installed as original equipment on Explorers.

Ford introduced an all-new, redesigned Explorer in 2001 and said it didn't notify consumers of the rollover problem because it was not aware the previous model was prone to tip because of its higher center of gravity.

The Explorer remains the world's best-selling sport-utility vehicle with nearly 400,000 sold in the United States in 2002.

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