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Ford Faces Lawsuit Over Defect

November 15, 1997

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (AP) _ A man injured in an Aerostar is suing Ford Motor Co., claiming the automaker sold minivans with a defective part and failed to notify owners of the problem. The defect led Ford to recall thousands of the minivans this week.

Robert Cox suffered a collapsed disc in an accident in July and sued Ford two weeks ago. He is seeking class-action status for his lawsuit and $2 billion.

Ford recalled 82,000 Aerostars for the defect on Thursday. Spokesman Chris Vinyard called the lawsuit ``baseless.″

Cox’s lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger, said on Friday that Ford waited more than a year before telling the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about the problem. Vinyard said Ford notified NHTSA as soon as the company’s investigation determined that a recall was warranted.

The recall affects certain 1992 to 1997 four-wheel-drive Aerostars. When operated at high speed, some of the vehicles _ especially in hot weather _ may develop structural failure of the transmission or transfer case.

If that happens, the minivan is unable to accelerate and loses power to its wheels, Vinyard said. He said it would not affect braking or steering.

Ford received 150 reports of the transmission problem, which it has known about since July 1996, Vinyard said. Two of the occurrences allegedly resulted in loss of control of the vehicle _ including the one reported by Cox, Vinyard said. He said the only injury claim is from Cox.

Fieger contends many more unreported injuries may have resulted from the problem.

In mid-September, Ford alerted NHTSA that it would recall the vehicles but asked the agency not to disclose the recall until Ford got enough parts to fix the problem.

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said even if Ford didn’t know how to fix the problem, it should have notified NHTSA and the public earlier.

``It’s simply inexcusable for NHTSA to have joined a conspiracy to conceal this from the public,″ he said.

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