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State To Share In Ford Settlement

Dec 21, 2002 | Orlando Sentinel Florida will share in a $51.5 million settlement with Ford Motor Co. over claims that it misled consumers about the rollover risk of itssport utility vehicles.

The state will receive $1.6 million and help oversee a $30 million nationwide safety campaign as part of the agreement announced Friday by the Florida Attorney General's Office.

Ford already has spent $2 billion to replace tires in Florida and other states after thousands of rollover accidents involving faulty Firestone tires and the Ford Explorer.

The company admitted no wrongdoing but touted the agreement as an amicable conclusion to government probes related to its massive tire recall.

The payments, to occur within weeks, will be shared among the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Much of Florida's share will be used to reimburse its legal costs.

Ford agreed to change its advertising to ensure that consumers get more reliable information about the handling, cargo capacity and safety of the company's SUVs.

For the first time, Ford also will provide Spanish-language owner guides for all its SUVs.

Friday's settlement resembles one 13 months ago, when Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. agreed to pay $41.5 million for its role in advertising and selling tires that had tire-separation problems.

The tire maker agreed to spend $5 million on a consumer education campaign and $10 million to reimburse attorney's fees for the states.

In the latest case, attorneys for the states alleged that Ford failed to tell SUV owners about the hazards of their vehicles, including the potential for tire failures with certain Firestone ATX and Wilderness AT tires.

In Florida, 40 deaths are linked to Ford SUV rollovers, and at least 271 deaths nationwide are tied to the failed tires.

Lawyers for the states said Ford continued to use the tires even after the company should have known that they had an unacceptably high failure rate and that using the tires made Ford's SUVs more likely to roll over. The states also alleged that the company exaggerated the safe loading capacity and maneuverability of the vehicles.

"So many things with these vehicles were advertised as car-like, but the truth is they are trucks and should be advertised as such," said Lisa Raleigh, Florida's senior assistant attorney general.

Ford's Web sitesaid the company "was pleased to work with the states to resolve any lingering concerns from the tire recall of August 2000."

Friday's settlement does notprevent individuals from filing their own lawsuits.

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