Ford Caught Lying - Again

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2003 — Ford has been the subject of some strong charges by our organization about its veracity with customers and the public about the safety of its Bronco II-Explorer model line. In defending itself, Ford repeatedly asserted that it is truthful in court and in its dealings with the public. It suggested that the federal judge in West Virginia who found the company had conspired with a bribed witness was a loner in his view of the company’s behavior.

The company’s spokespeople claimed, without qualification, to numerous media outlets that other judges in different states had dismissed the fraud charges, and the company had been cleared.

Unfortunately, Ford is lying again.

The rulings/findings in five court cases say nothing to this effect. Ford sidestepped these additional suits in all five cases on what amounted to a simple technicality – that people who’d signed settlement agreements with Ford prohibiting future legal action could not sue Ford again for fraud.

None of these courts ever addressed the issue of whether Ford paid an expert witness to lie.

We briefly document Ford’s lying below.

The problem is that Ford lied to several hundred thousands of newspaper readers around the country, and the record has not been set straight. The fundamental question remains: how truthful has the maker of America’s most popular SUV been with its customers and the American public?

Ford spokespeople lying this week

“A Ford spokesman told the Associated Press that courts in several states have dismissed charges similar to those made by the Environmental Working Group” (Detroit Free Press, 3/11/03)

“Ford spokesman Jon Harmon said four courts in Oklahoma and Texas have dismissed the allegations about the engineer in the last three years” (Associated Press, 3/10/03)

“Ford Motor Co. spokesman Jon Harmon told the Detroit News that Ford has won five lawsuits between 1990 and 1996 that accused the automaker of fraud” (UPI, 3/11/03)

What the courts really said

The Goff case in West Virginia is only instance in which a court has addressed whether or not Ford engaged in a conspiracy to commit fraud — i.e., the company had bribed former company engineer David Bickerstaff to lie under oath to help Ford win in court.

It’s worth noting that instead of fighting the judge’s decision, Ford settled immediately. In a similar case involving a van rollover, Ford was sanctioned by the federal judge in that case (decided last month) for willfully concealing evidence, then opted — again — to settle.

If Ford is so convinced that its court behavior was honorable, then why didn’t it appeal in either case? The company has been long known for a “scorched earth” legal strategy.

Here’s a detailed description of the cases in which, according to Ford, the charges of fraud were dismissed:

Case 1 — The Kennedy case in federal court in the Eastern District of Oklahoma was decided on Nov. 28, 2001. The court declared that the victim’s settlement agreement with Ford covered claims of fraud. Therefore, even if Ford paid Bickerstaff to lie, the victim couldn’t undo or sue Ford again for her injuries. This case also did not address whether or not Ford paid Bickerstaff to lie (see page 7 of accompanying opinion, kennedy.pdf). This case has been appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, so the decision is not final.

Case 2 — The Joy case in the Western District of Texas was decided on May 23, 2002. As in the earlier three cases, the court did not address whether or not fraud actually occurred. The court decided that Steven Joy could not reopen his case because his settlement agreement included a release that applied even to a case involving fraud (see page 15 of accompanying decision, joy.pdf). This case has been appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Again, the final fate of the case has not been decided.

Case 3 — The Seniguar case in the Eastern District of Texas was decided on July 23, 2002. Yet again, the court did not evaluate whether or not a fraud occurred. The court ruled that the "release plainly contemplated, disposed of, and protected against future potential litigation such as this" (see page 7 of accompanying document, seniguar.pdf). This case has been appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Here again, Ford has not had the final say.

Cases 4 and 5 — Two additional cases in Texas (2001-2) were dismissed because the victims had signed settlement agreements in which they agreed that even fraud claims were waived. State law, in the view of the presiding judge, wouldn’t let the victims go after Ford again, even on the basis of possible fraud. Ford basically wore down the plaintiffs, who decided not to appeal. The question of whether Ford had bribed Bickerstaff in a conspiracy to commit fraud was never examined.

Important: In each of these cases, the judges, as a matter of procedure, actually assume that all allegations of fraud are true. The question addressed was only: even if there was fraud, were there grounds for a claim if there was a signed settlement agreement prohibiting future legal action?

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