Cleveland Files Class-Action Lawsuit Alleging Ford Makes Unsafe Police Cars

By M.R. KROPKO, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - The city filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of law enforcement agencies across Ohio that accuses Ford Motor Co. of selling unsafe police cars.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in Texas, Arizona, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Florida concerning the potential for fuel tank fires in Ford-made Crown Victoria police cars, a city official said.

Ford spokeswoman Sara Tatchio said the lawsuit was not a surprise to the company, because the issue is not new.

"This is a very serious situation for us, and we're treating it with urgency," she said. "It might be a little surprising to see a lawsuit was filed when, happily, we don't know of any (police car fuel tank) incidents in Cleveland, or in the state of Ohio for that matter."

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, lists seven separate fuel tank fires during 2000 and 2001, all of which led to injuries or deaths. None of the examples involved an Ohio police car.

R. Eric Kennedy, the attorney for the city, said he is not aware of any death in Ohio linked to a ruptured Ford-made police car fuel tank.

"The point is, this lawsuit is trying to prevent deaths from happening," Kennedy said.

The lawsuit does not specify a dollar amount sought for damages but alleges that compensatory and punitive damages are appropriate, as are restitution and attorney fees.

Cleveland has 481 police cars that are Ford Crown Victorias, along with Mayor Jane Campbell's city car.

"The police cannot protect Cleveland's citizens if they are driving vehicles that potentially compromise their own safety," said Subodh Chandra, the city's law director. "As a major Ohio city, Cleveland is taking leadership in this legal action for the good of all citizens throughout our state."

Lt. John Born, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Public Safety and the State Highway Patrol, said Wednesday he was not aware of the lawsuit and doubted the patrol would be party to it.

About 1,000 marked patrol cars, an estimated 98 percent of the fleet on the road, are Ford Crown Victorias, Born said.

"The Highway Patrol has experienced no problems with Crown Victoria cars," Born said. "There was a notification from Ford that essentially dealt with a bolt under the bumper that had to be fixed, and all of our cars were retrofit.

"We always work with the manufacturer to ensure that if there are any safety issues that we are made aware of them. We want our officers to be in the safest car they can be in."

Bret Crow, a spokesman in Attorney General Betty Montgomery's office, said the staff was aware of the issue because of concerns in other states, but did not learn about the lawsuit until after it was filed.

Ford is trying to determine how to prevent gas tank fires and explosions following rear-end collisions in its police car version of the Crown Victoria. In June, Ford agreed to set up two study panels to study the situation.

The automaker is considering making foam-filled bladders surrounding the gas tank to block fuel from leaking in a collision.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)