From The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (Vol. 6, No. 13)

San Francisco-A proposed settlement preliminarily approved June 22 provides Ford Motor Co. will replace or reimburse customers for composite manifolds that consumer class actions alleged were defective (Chamberlan v. Ford Motor Co., N,D. Cal., No. 4:03-cv-02628-CW, 6/22/05).

The proposed settlement covers an estimated 1.8 million vehicles and more than 2 million class members across the country who purchased or leased Ford vehicles that were the subject of separate class actions in California, Alabama, and Oklahoma (McGettigan v. Ford Motor Co., Ala. Cir. Ct., No. CV-2002-3400-JRL; Rhea v. Ford Motor Co., Okla. Dist. Ct., Adair Cnty., No. CJ-05-55).

Plaintiffs alleged Ford knowingly manufactured, sold, and distributed automobiles containing a plastic intake manifold that was more likely to crack and cause coolant leaks that the aluminum models Ford used on other cars.

Ford, which denies the charges, implemented design changes generally by the 2002 model year, the proposed settlement said.

The settlement, subject to a Sept. 30 fairness hearing, will provide actual cost reimbursement to those who already paid to replace the manifolds, and have paperwork to prove it.

The provision includes reimbursement for repairs from damages caused b the defective manifolds, said co-lead class councel Michael Ram.

Those without documentation can receive $735 of a dealership verifies the manifold has been replaced.

The settlement also provides an extended retroactive warranty to cover fatigue cracks in the intake manifolds, which could cause coolant leaks at the crossover coolant passage. The coverage period for the extended warranty is seven years from the warranty sale date without mileage limitation.

Class counsel will receive $4.5 million in fees and costs under the agreement.
"This is basically everything we would have gotten by going to trial," Plaintiff's Attorney Michael Ram

Settled in Face of Trial. Trial was scheduled to begin June 16 in Oakland, Calif., federal court before U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken who urged the parties to settle, said Ram.

Settlement negotiations followed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit pre curium decision March 31 declining to hear Ford's challenge to class certification (Chamberlan v. Ford Motor Co., 9th Cir., No. 04-80074, 3/31/05, 6 CLASS 231, 04/8/05).

Wilken last September certified a class of some 150,000 Californians who spent about $105 million on repairs (5 CLASS 650, 09/24/04).

The settlement covers current and former owners and leasees of 1996-2002 model-year Ford, Lincoln,or Mercury vehicle equipped with a 4.6-liter, 2-valve V-8 engine having an all-composite air intake manifold as original equipment, other than vehicles which already have received an extended warranty.
Models covered include Mercury Grand Marquis 1996-2001; Lincoln Town Car 1996-2001; Ford Crown Victoria 1996-2001; Mercury Cougar, Ford Thunderbird, and Mustang 1997 (built after June 24, 1997); Ford Mustang 1998-2001 (some vehicles); and certain 2002 Ford Explorers equipped with the 4.6-liter, 2-valve V-8 engine.

In 1998, Ford began to offer several extended warranty protection or "recall" programs for free replacements or repairs of defective intake manifolds.

But, the plaintiffs allege, Ford extended this offer only to fleet purchasers, such as taxi cab companies, limousine service companies, and police forces, not to regular consumer purchasers.