Ford Sued by Police Officers Over Fumes in Explorer SUVs

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By Bruce Kaufman

Austin, Texas, police officer Ryan Hancock suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from exposure to exhaust fumes in his 2014 Ford Explorer Police Interceptor vehicles, an Oct. 16 suit filed against Ford Motor Co. alleges ( Hancock v. Ford Motor Co. , Tex. Dist. Ct., No. D-1-GN-17-005765, complaint filed 10/16/17 ).

Austin police Sergeant Zachary T. LaHood filed a similar suit June 20 alleging he was exposed to the noxious fumes in his 2015 Ford Explorer police cruiser ( LaHood v. Ford Motor Co. , Tex. Dist. Ct., No. D-1-GN-17-002820, complaint filed 6/20/17 ).

The new suits come as Ford faces mounting pressure from groups like the Center for Auto Safety, which is pushing for a recall of as many as 1.3 million 2011-2017 Ford Explorer vehicles due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning to drivers and occupants.

The group said Ford’s Oct. 13 announcement that it would provide free repairs didn’t go far enough.

Dealers will reprogram the air conditioner, replace the liftgate drain valves, and inspect sealing of the rear of the vehicle at no cost to customers, the announcement said.

“With something this potentially dangerous, the responsible step is a full recall—and if Ford will not do it, NHTSA should step in,” Jason Levine, CAS’s executive director, said Oct. 16 in a statement.

Ford, however, insists the vehicles are safe and that its investigation has “not found carbon monoxide levels that exceed what people are exposed to every day.”

The allegations stemming from carbon monoxide in Police Interceptor Utilities were caused by “unsealed holes” from the installation of police equipment by third parties after the vehicle was purchased, Ford said.

Ford spokesperson Elizabeth Weigandt told Bloomberg Law Oct. 18 that the automaker won’t comment on pending litigation.

“However, we have tested Police Interceptor Utilities with exhaust odor concerns, finding variable levels of carbon monoxide, depending on how well the rear of the vehicle was sealed after installation of police equipment. Unsealed holes can allow exhaust gases to enter the vehicle during aggressive acceleration and high speed driving unique to police use,” she said.

In July, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration upgraded its investigation into Ford Explorer sport utility vehicles, including police cruisers, based on more than 2,700 complaints.

In June, Ford’s nationwide class settlement with owners of 2011-15 Ford Explorers with exhaust problems received final court approval in the Southern District of Florida. The deal, which covers 880,000 vehicles, requires Ford to fix affected vehicles or pay up to $175 for post-warranty “exhaust odor repairs.”

The litigation by the two Austin police officers allege the Explorer vehicles were defectively designed, allowing gases, including carbon monoxide, to enter the passenger compartment.

Hancock and LaHood each seek $1 million in damages in their suits filed in the Texas District Court for Travis County. Both officers allege they became sick while driving; LaHood said he lost consciousness and nearly collided with an oncoming bus.

LaHood was transported by ambulance to a local hospital where he was diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the complaint. He alleges he suffered severe neurological injuries as a result of his exposure.

Reeves & Brightwell and Bisnar | Chase represent the plaintiffs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Kaufman in Washington at bkaufman@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at spatrick@bna.com

For More Information

Hancock complaint at http://src.bna.com/tud.

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