Up to 1.7 million Ford cars and trucks recalled

The Associated Press
Thursday October 12, 2000

OAKLAND — Susan Von Ritter was driving her Ford Taurus on a busy highway in Fremont a few years ago when the vehicle stalled in the fast lane. While her children cried, she managed to pull to the shoulder and barely avoid an accident. 

On Wednesday, Von Ritter was among millions of current or former Ford owners in California who got some vindication when a state judge ordered the recall of 1.7 million Ford cars and trucks in an unprecedented ruling. 

It was the first time a judge in the United States had ordered a car recall, which normally is issued by government agencies. 

The judge’s order, which applies only to vehicles sold in California, targets ignition modules installed on 29 models – including the popular Taurus, Mustang, Escort and Bronco – primarily in the 1980s and early ’90s. 

The ruling came as Ford already is being buffeted by the recall of 6.5 million Firestone tires, which were standard equipment on some Ford trucks and sports utility vehicles.  

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating dozens of deaths possibly linked to the tires. 

Superior Court Judge Michael E. Ballachey said Ford knew the vehicles were prone to stalling, especially when the engine was hot, but failed to alert consumers. 

Ford officials disagreed and said the company would appeal, saying it doesn’t believe Ballachey has the authority to order a recall. 

“We would ask the public to trust real engineering and not court engineering,” Ford spokesman Jim Cain said.  

“All of the data on stalling collected by the government, all of the data on accidents, suggests there is no problem with these vehicles. 

“A recall would serve no purpose because there is nothing to fix,” Cain added. “We’re talking about a lot of old cars and old trucks, two-thirds of which have more than 120,000 miles on the odometer.” 

Ford’s stock fell 81.2 cents, to $24.313, in trading Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange. Analyst Gary Lapidus with Goldman, Sachs & Co. said the decline was unrelated to the verdict, noting several auto companies saw their stock decline Wednesday amid fears of an auto industry slowdown. 

“It’s a dead-end story,” Lapidus said. “The auto industry has bigger worries than a recall on a few ignitions.” 

Von Ritter, one of the named plaintiffs in the class-action suit, sold her Taurus shortly after the stalling incident. 

“I was petrified. The kids were screaming and crying. I thought this was it,” she said. “I was lucky. I was able to get to the side of the road before being rammed.” 

Nelda Rohling and her parents were not as lucky.  

They were hit by a vehicle when their 1989 Ford Tempo stalled as they crossed a busy highway near Lubbock, Texas, in 1993. Her father died on impact. Rohling and her mother were severely injured. 

“We started to cross the highway at a stop sign and the car dies,” Rohling said. “Dad’s jiggling, jiggling to get the car on. We were looking at this car coming down on us.” 

Rohling said they sued Ford and that the automaker settled out of court without admitting liability. 

The automaker has settled dozens of wrongful death and bodily injury suits nationwide in which a Ford vehicle was suspected of stalling.  

Ford never admitted wrongdoing in those out-of-court settlement.