Ford settles suit in fatal E350 van crash
The world's second-largest automaker was accused of concealing safety data in a case involving the deaths of two passengers. They died when one of the large E350 vans flipped on a Kentucky highway in 1996. Thirteen people from Illinois and two from Michigan were aboard.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman of Chicago ordered Ford to turn over safety records -- information the company claimed didn't exist -- and fined the automaker after plaintiffs' attorneys filed a motion to impose sanctions.
The case was scheduled for trial Monday in Chicago, but was settled out of court a few days after a hearing in which Gettleman had some harsh words for the automaker.
"I don't want to believe lawyers would come and risk their licenses and livelihoods and professional reputations by making false statements to a court, but that's what is happening," Gettleman said last Friday. "Whether they're being set up by their client to do it . . . you know, it's a big company . . . and maybe they can do that sort of thing. . . . It almost borders on criminal to be honest with you."
Neither side would disclose the amount of the settlement. Ford faces other claims involving E350 vans, which have come under government scrutiny because of numerous rollover accidents.
Ford says that the van is safe.
The automaker said disputes that arose in the Chicago case involve the definition of the term "rollover."
"There was no attempt by any Ford employees to withhold or conceal any of this information," the company said in a statement, adding that the Kentucky accident was caused when the van's driver fell asleep at the wheel.
But James Lowe of Cleveland, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said Ford deliberately concealed evidence that shows the 15-passenger vans are prone to rollovers.
At issue in the motion for sanctions was whether Ford conducted certain safety testing on the vehicles several years ago, then hid the results from the court and plaintiffs' lawyers.
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