Plaintiffs' attorneys are seeking reinstatement of federal class-action status for their financial relief lawsuit against Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone/Firestone after an appeals court ruled against them.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, on May 2, overturned an Indianapolis federal district judge's certification of the non-injury class action, which involves potentially millions of plaintiffs. Attorneys for the plaintiffs want a review of the decision before the appeals court's full 11-judge panel.
There are plenty of state class action suits ready to go if the plaintiffs don't get a federal case, said Don Barrett, the Lexington, Miss., attorney who serves as lead attorney in the class action.
The three-judge panel ruled that a single financial-damages class action would be unwieldy to handle owners of 3 million Ford Explorers equipped with 15 million Firestone tires in all 50 states.
``Because these claims must be adjudicated under the law of so many jurisdictions, a single nationwide class is not manageable, '' said the court, which also opined that a class action on the Ford-Firestone issues would be unworkable even on the state level.
Plaintiffs' attorneys had sought financial relief for those who owned or still own 1991 to 2001 Ford Explorers and Firestone original equipment or replacement tires for that model. They claimed the two companies knowingly sold defective products and therefore were liable for the vehicles' loss of value, premature tire replacement, and other damages allegedly suffered by customers.
Ford and Firestone, however, argued that the members of the class were too diverse-including more than 280 distinct tire populations-to make the class action workable. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, they added, had procedures for dealing with consumer complaints that are superior to those of the federal courts.
Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the Indianapolis federal district court certified the class action Nov. 28 and defended her decision with a 67-page brief Dec. 31. Judge Barker said the plaintiffs presented persuasive evidence that Firestone had exaggerated the differences between the tires involved in the case and also stated that NHTSA's product liability remedies were not comparable to those of the courts.
After the May 2 ruling, BFS praised the appeals court's decision. ``This decision confirms what we have been saying all along: The issues and circumstances involved in these no-injury lawsuits are far too varied to justify class certification,'' the company said.
In a statement, Ford noted NHTSA had investigated the Explorer and found no further action to be warranted.
Mr. Barrett took a decidedly opposite view. ``This decision ignored the legal standards that the appeals court has set out in other cases,'' he said.
Mr. Barrett said he expects the appeals court to act promptly on the motion for rehearing.