Within a year or two of buying their cars, the owners of the 2000 and 2001 Ford Focus began to notice that the vehicle's brakes seemed to wear out sooner than they expected. Focus owners found themselves paying out anywhere from $350 to $1200 to repair the brakes, and some had to have worn out brakes repaired more than once.
Ford refused to cover the brake problems under its 'bumper to bumper' warranty. The automaker called it a normal wear and tear situation.
Three Ford Focus owners from California called a lawyer.
"It was a defective design in the Ford Focus front brake system," says Skalet. "It caused the brake pads and rotors to wear out very prematurely."
Lawyer Steven Skalet and his firm have gone up against the Ford Motor company before. The firm had jousted with the company in discrimination and civil rights litigation, but it had not fought a vehicle defect case with Ford.
Looking back on the case now, Skalet says a lot of hours were spent in discovery relating to engineers and records in Germany and in Dearborn, Michigan over the brake system problems they had uncovered and the fixes and solutions that had been tried.
Skalet says he and his colleagues were able to prove the brakes were wearing out prematurely through a variety of statistical information and test results. "It was based on mileage, based on tests that ford conducted, based on complaints Ford received and based on expert testimony."
Approximately 20 witnesses were deposed and Skalet's team was able to show that Ford's engineers had made mistakes during the testing phase.
"The break in the case came when the judge certified the case as a class action," says Skalet. "At that point, in February of 2007, Ford was ready to accept a mediated settlement."
Skalet describes Ford as a "formidable opponent that litigated hard."
"Anytime you win," says Skalet, "it is a feather in your cap.The settlement is open ended; there's no limit on the amount that will be re-reimbursed."
Plaintiffs and class members have until September 16, 2008 to submit their claims. "The checks will likely start coming in September and October," says Skalet.
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A six-year case definitely has its difficulties. To Skalet, this case was not that much different from other ones. "They are sort of like prize fights, you win some rounds, you lose some rounds," he says, "but at the end of the day it is the result that counts.
Steven Skalet is a principal in the firm of Mehri & Skalet, PLLC in Washington, DC. Skalet is involved in all aspects of the firm's litigation practice. Skalet has 35 years of litigation and transactional experience in real estate, consumer fraud, bank fraud and class action litigation.