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Utah, 52 plaintiffs negotiate settlement in Explorer suit filed against Ford Motor

Last week, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff announced a $51.5 million settlement with Ford Motor Company.

The agreement resolves a suit alleging that company made false claims regarding the safety of Ford Explorers and the replacement tires for the sports utility vehicles, indicated the attorney general's office.

The agreement calls for $30 million from the settlement to mount a nationwide consumer education campaign about SUV safety.

Utah and 52 jurisdictions taking part in the settlement will receive individual payments of $300,000. The remainder will be cover the costs of the investigation.

"The attorney general's office has a responsibility to protect consumers," said Jeff Buckner, who represented Utah in the settlement. "One way we can do that is to stop companies from sending out deceptive advertising."

The investigation alleged that Ford violated state laws against unfair and deceptive acts, including:

•Advertising that the Explorer had "car-like" steering and handling. The vehicle is a truck and has a higher risk of rollover.

•Exaggerating the Explorer's capability to carry cargo and passengers. For some models with popular options, the vehicle would exceed capacity by simply having a person in each seat.

•Advertising aftermarket tires as the same as the original tires. The aftermarket tires had different specifications, standards and compounds.

•Failing to disclose the safety risks associated with Explorers equipped with Firestone ATX and Wilderness AT tires. Ford knew or should have known about the risk as early as 1993.

Ford denies any wrongdoing and the company has agreed to abide by all state and federal laws governing SUV safety, according to the attorney general's office. The car manufacturer has already spent $2 billion to replace tires in the United States.

"I would like to congratulate the Ford Motor Company for agreeing to resolve these claims without expensive litigation. This settlement shows that Ford has a real commitment to educating the public about SUV safety," commented Shurtleff.

The joint settlement came a year after a $51.5 million nationwide settlement negotiated with Bridgestone/Firestone for selling and advertising tires with high rates of tread separation.

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