Rhetorical lawsuits

The SE Texas Record Feb. 16, 2008, 7:34am

Just how much care must one exercise when boiling crawfish?

When is lightning an act of God?

How tough, legally, is "Ford Tough"?

On its most ambitious days, Jefferson County's courts are called upon to solve some of these mysteries.

The "Ford Tough" question is our subject this week, because the lawyer asking is a repeat truth-seeker, desperately seeking judicial light and perhaps a hefty settlement.

Attorney Jeffrey Roebuck of Beaumont sued Ford in circuit court this week, charging the company defrauded his client, Mark Anderson, into buying an F-250 truck.

It was a copycat lawsuit for Roebuck. He first sued the automaker-- along with Philpott Ford in Nederland--last August.

Roebuck claims he was defrauded into buying a Ford F-250, after being convinced by Ford that the vehicle was tougher than it actually was.

At issue in both cases is a new-fangled, non-Ford "programmer" device that Roebuck and Anderson installed in their vehicles, trying to make the engine run faster. For both men, the device ended up "ruining" the truck's engine. Anderson says he got only 99,000 trouble-free miles before it went kaput.

Both want a refund. But then they finally read the truck's warranty. Installing a programmer effectively voids it.

Which led Roebuck to shift gears, alleging Ford's "fraud" as a cause of action aimed at squeezing some compensation out of the auto giant for his oversight.

Sure, he didn't read the warranty. But "Built Ford Tough" was really the problem. A genuinely "tough" truck would have handled the programmer just fine.

Roebuck blamed the effectiveness of Ford's ads--the ones in which company Chairman William Clay Ford tells how great his company's products are.

"We have always felt that our trucks were tougher than anybody else's trucks," says Ford in one of the spots. "Built Ford Tough isn't just a slogan, it's what we deliver."

The ads showed a confident company scion and striking images of Ford trucks easily navigating the American landscape. Then there was Ford's sponsorship of the Professional Bull Rider's Tour--all part of the "Built Ford Tough Series." Creative ad genius simply bamboozled the trusting and naive Roebuck and Anderson.

So they had to buy Ford. Now both want damages for, among other wrongs, "mental anguish."

Do you think both should take cabs?

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