A few weeks ago, Ford Motor Co. was embroiled in a controversy after settling the class-action lawsuit by giving discount coupons worth $300 to $500 to complainants instead of giving them monetary compensation.
During the 1990s, Ford Explorer has been linked to hundreds of deaths. According to experts, the vehicle's design is prone to rollover crash which is considered to be the deadliest form of car accident.
According to reports, more than 1 million consumers, who were covered by the class lawsuit against the carmaker, have received coupons which can only be useful when they purchase a new SUV from the same company.
With this settlement handed down by the Sacramento County Superior Court, many legal experts, consumers groups, and tort reformists expressed disappointment over the legal practice that allows companies to give out coupons instead of monetary damages.
Some legal experts estimated that the monetary settlement could be worth as much as $500 million.
Some Ford consumers, who signed their names on the lawsuit, were appalled by the court's decision and said that the discount coupons are useless since they are not even considering buying a new vehicle because layoffs are pervasive and the US economy is weak.
Controversial Issues Involving Other Carmakers
Just recently, General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Group LLC have also been under controversy after filing bankruptcy protection, shielding the companies from lawsuits and claims.
But instead of settling the lawsuits with discount coupons, which happened in the case of Ford's consumers, the complainants can resort to suing GM and Chrysler's dealers and suppliers.
However, some legal experts argue that dealers should not be held liable since they only sell vehicles, have no technology and crash laboratory to test each model, and have no technical knowledge to identify defects.
For auto part suppliers, such argument does not apply. According to lawyers, suppliers are considered more liable than dealers since they are the ones who make the car accessories.
Improving the SUV's Design
After several studies prove that SUV is four times more likely to rollover than a low-roofed sedan, Ford, Chrysler, and GM have recently introduced electronic stability control system, a technology that detects potential rollover (e.g. sudden swerve) and automatically applies the breaks and modulate throttles to allow drivers to maintain their control.
Other carmakers such as Volvo and Range Rover have also introduced this safety technology.
To complement the electronic stability control system, some companies also install seatbelt securing control that works by automatically tightening the strap if the system detects that the SUV is titling or may turn on its side.
Apart from these technologies, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has recently required automakers to lower the SUV's roof (to also lower the center of gravity) and make it stronger to protect occupants in the event of a rollover crash.
The last safety requirement is especially important for Ford. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), Ford Explorer (1996-2001) has one of the weakest roofs among the vehicles tested.
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