Ford gets rolled over

The SE Texas Record Jul. 25, 2009, 4:26pm

When they filed the class action complaint, the lawyers said they were suing for us.

But the outcome says the lawsuit was mostly for them. How else can one conclude when plaintiff's attorneys pocketed $25 million of a $27 million class action settlement with Ford Motor Company? Our very own Provost Umphrey got $1 million, a fraction of the total but more than all alleged victims, combined.

The lawyers originally brought the class action in California state court, charging Ford's "design defects" made its popular Ford Explorer more prone to rollovers. Ford denied the baseless charges.

Facing a battery of plaintiff lawyers backed by pro-plaintiff mechanical engineers with pro-plaintiff theories of defective crash designs, Ford company executives eventually figured it was cheaper to pay up so they would go away.

For a cool $25 million in fees, the trial lawyers were satisfied to scurry off. As part of the settlement Ford made a $950,000 "donation" to the Automotive Safety Research Institute. Perhaps the institute will be able to document that the only car safe enough to withstand a court-challenged collision with a lawyer is one without wheels.

This dubious outcome prompts us to ask, in lawyerly Latin, "Cui bono?" To whose benefit?

Whatever the merits of the case, the alleged victims got next to nothing. Ironically, they can receive a coupon worth $500 toward the purchase of a new Explorer. One wonders if that might enable future "victims" to claim defects in a later model and file suit again.

Meanwhile less litigious American car buyers get the opportunity to pay more for their next Ford vehicle as the company rolls over the cost of the settlement into its new sticker prices.

Ford workers get to face the likelihood of more layoffs. Ford stockholders get to see investments decline.

Is everybody happy? Or should we feel rolled?

Who benefits most from the Ford settlement? Some lawyers.

Their motto seems to be: justice is for just us.

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