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South Carolina drivers sue Ford for defective brakes

Ford motor company is blaming driver error as a defense against a multi-state lawsuit which alleges that the manufacturer is responsible for a design defect in its 2002-2010 models. According to the suit, these vehicles were equipped with an electronic throttle control and were susceptible to sudden and unintended acceleration. The plaintiffs, consumers of affected vehicles purchased in South Carolina and 13 other states, filed this lawsuit on March 28 in a U.S. District Court.

The suit seeks compensatory damages for the cars' lost value and demands that the manufacturer fix the alleged defect. The models were not equipped with brake override technology that stops the car and prevents a car crash if the brake and gas pedal are both activated. The plaintiffs are also asking for class-action lawsuit status.

The plaintiffs cite a 2011 report issued by the Transportation Department's Office of Inspector General showing that 374 car accident fatalities resulted from these electrical throttle controls from 2003 through 2009. Complaints against the manufacturer on this issue exceeded those against other car manufacturers and comprised 22 percent of all complaints during that time period.

Following another car maker's recall of 8 million vehicles for sudden acceleration in 2009 and 2010, the NHTSA proposed rules requiring brake override systems on all vehicles. The manufacturer joined several other auto makers and began installing brake override systems in 2010. The manufacturer, however, argues that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration attributed the acceleration incidents to driver error in the agency's numerous investigations of this issue. In addition, the NHTSA and NASA issued a report in 2011 that found no evidence of electronic malfunctions in another manufacturer's models that were recalled. Investigators blamed the problems on gas pedals that could stick and floor mats that could interfere with gas pedals.

As this lawsuit demonstrates, there may be several explanations and disputes over whether driver error or product defects cause car accidents. Crash victims should promptly seek advice and commence an accident investigation to determine which party is liable, obtain evidence concerning the accident and meet time periods governing the filing of a lawsuit.

Source: USA Today, "Lawsuit: Older Fords can suddenly speed up," Jayne O'Donnell, March 28, 2013

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