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News Break

10/15/2004 20:53:22 EST

Jury Rules Ford Police Cruisers Are Safe

BELLEVILLE, Ill. - A jury in the first class-action lawsuit filed over the safety of Ford's Crown Victoria police cruisers ruled Friday that the cars are safe, but a judge must now decide if the automaker violated state consumer fraud laws.

Class-action lawsuits are pending in at least 12 states over the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, a specially built police cruiser that accounts for the majority of police cars on U.S. streets.

Since 1983, at least 15 officers nationwide have died in fiery crashes after their Crown Victorias were rear-ended - including one in Texas last month. Ford Motor Co. contends the deaths reflect officers' risky work rather than a design flaw.

Jurors on Friday agreed the car was safe, dismissing a fraud claim filed in 2002 by the St. Clair County Sheriff's Office and nearby Centreville Police Department.

"It's a terrible thing that someone has to die, but their cars are no more dangerous than other Crown Victorias on the road now," Judy Burgess, one of the jurors, told the Belleville News-Democrat.

"To have 12 folks unanimously agree that the Number One police vehicle in the U.S. is safe is very important and significant to Ford," company attorney Jim Feeney said.

State law requires that the judge rule on three remaining counts: whether Ford engaged in deceptive trade practices, violated Illinois consumer fraud laws, and unjustly enriched the company by the fraud. Feeney said he expected a ruling in about two weeks.

None of the fatal crashes occurred in Illinois, but the departments accused Ford of failing to disclose alleged problems with the car to law enforcement agencies, seeking to force the company to retrofit cruisers with safety equipment.

Attorneys for the two departments did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday.

Lawyers for Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford argued during the trial that the vehicle is safe, and that officers are at higher risk for serious accidents because they are more likely to travel at high speeds and park at the sides of highways.
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