A California judge on Tuesday approved the settlement of a class-action lawsuit that will compensate about 800,000 Ford Explorer owners whose vehicles lost value because of a perceived rollover danger.
The settlement ends lawsuits against Ford Motor Co. in California, Connecticut, Illinois and Texas. Those lawsuits claimed that Explorers lost about $1,000 in resale value because of publicity stemming from a series of rollover accidents involving the SUV.
The class action over the loss in value is separate from the numerous death and personal-injury lawsuits involving earlier models of the Explorer that continue across the country.
Under the settlement, those who bought Explorers in model years 1991 through 2001 are eligible for $500 vouchers to buy new Explorers or $300 vouchers to buy other Ford or Lincoln Mercury vehicles.
Consumer groups and some plaintiffs objected to the settlement. They said few owners will be able to take advantage of the vouchers, in part because of the poor economy and high gas prices.
They also were upset the plaintiffs' attorneys will receive as much as $25 million in fees and costs.
"They get $25 million. All I get is this lousy coupon that I'm not going to use. It's valueless to me," said plaintiff Stephen Webber of Glendale, north of Los Angeles, who owns a 1993 Explorer.
Plaintiff Jeff Weinstein of Athens, Texas, whose wife owned a 1998 Explorer, also said the settlement left the consumer with nothing of real value.
"Who's going to go out and buy another gas-guzzler to take advantage of a $500 coupon?" said Rosemary Shahan, president of the California-based Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety.
The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Auto Safety formally objected to the settlement on behalf of about 450,000 Explorers in California, 350,000 in Texas, 150,000 in Illinois and 50,000 in Connecticut. Some plaintiffs owned more than one Explorer, while some of the vehicles had multiple owners.
In ruling for the settlement, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge David De Alba said fewer than 70 plaintiffs had filed written objections to the settlement. He acknowledged the agreement's shortcomings but said it was a reasonable end to seven years of litigation.
"It's not perfect ... but it's likely that a lot of people would have gotten nothing," he said toward the end of the 3 1/2-hour hearing.
An added benefit of the litigation is that it contributed to safer vehicles, said Elizabeth Cabraser, co-lead attorney for the plaintiffs.
Ford denied its vehicles were unsafe and did not admit wrongdoing. Rather, the company's attorneys said a 50-day trial last year prompted the settlement because it demonstrated that Explorers are safe to drive.
The rash of rollover accidents also was attributed to faulty tires that were standard equipment on new Explorers.
Plaintiffs must postmark their claims by April 2 and have one year to redeem the coupons once they receive them.