Suit blames Ford for Austin police officer’s carbon monoxide illness


Highlights

Ryan Hancock and his wife allege that a police SUV’s flawed exhaust system led to damage to his nervous system.

The suit asks for unspecified damages to pay for medical bills, lost wages and future earnings.

An Austin police officer and his wife are suing Ford Motor Co., alleging that its Explorer SUV’s flawed exhaust system led to the officer’s carbon monoxide poisoning and subsequent damage to his nervous system.

The lawsuit is at least the second filed by an Austin police officer that accuses the automaker of negligence, saying that it knew of the problems, failed to fix them and failed to alert the public. The suit asks for unspecified damages to pay for medical bills, lost wages, future earnings and for the couple’s pain and suffering.

“We’re suing Ford because they designed, manufactured and sold a defective product,” said Brian Chase, an attorney representing officer Ryan Hancock. “It’s important to get the word out that these Ford Explorers have a problem leaking carbon monoxide and Ford hasn’t been able to fix it.”

Chase said the Austin police cases are two of the roughly 30 he has across the country stemming from reported Ford Explorer-linked carbon monoxide poisonings.

RELATED: Ford offers free inspection, repairs on Explorers

The Austin Police Department parked its nearly 400 Explorer patrol vehicles in July for emergency inspections after dozens of officers were potentially exposed to the dangerous and odorless gas. Over four days in July, at least five police officers were hospitalized.

None of the Explorers has been returned to service so far, though some are currently undergoing testing, a City Hall spokesman said Thursday.

A spokeswoman for Ford declined to comment on the pending litigation, but said the automaker’s own testing showed the leaks might be caused by modifications ordered by police departments to get the SUVs ready for law enforcement duty. Ford announced earlier this month that it was offering to inspect and repair Explorer SUVs at no cost to owners.

But Austin police aren’t alone in reporting problems with the Ford Explorer. Between 2011 and 2015, 154 people across the country reported their Explorer to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, largely complaining about problems with the exhaust system.

A July report from the federal agency found cracks in Explorer exhaust manifolds as a possible culprit for the carbon monoxide leaks in the police Explorers. The agency said it would continue to investigate to determine how common the cracks are and whether it affects civilian models, too.

RELATED: New APD carbon monoxide report was false alarm, chief says

But for Hancock, the warnings and investigations came too late, the lawsuit alleges. According to the suit, Hancock became nauseated and light-headed, then his head began to hurt and his vision became blurred as he patrolled the city on July 21. When he reported for duty the next day still feeling sick, he was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning, the suit says.

The lawsuit claims that Ford was aware of problems with the Explorer’s exhaust system as early as December 2012, when the company issued a bulletin to dealers acknowledging that the smell of exhaust was getting into the cabins of the SUVs.

“In sum, Ford knew that its Ford Explorer vehicles and Police Interceptor Utility vehicles, (including Hancock’s APD cruiser), were defective in that the design of those vehicles allowed deadly exhaust fumes, including poisonous carbon monoxide, to enter the passenger compartment,” the lawsuit claims. “(T)he suggested repairs failed to fix the problem.”

The lawsuit contains testimony from a Ford representative in a Florida case, who suggested in 2015 the exhaust problems were caused by a design flaw in the popular SUV.

RELATED: Monoxide illness linked to SUVs hits Austin police hardest

“It doesn’t seem to be a problem with an individual part or an individual vehicle that was misbuilt,” the representative, Bob Gray, said. “It does seem to be a design issue.”

The suit, filed Monday in Travis County state District Court, also names Leif Johnson Ford of Austin and Silsbee Ford, a dealership in East Texas, as defendants, claiming they and five other unnamed businesses failed to fix the patrol SUV.

A Leif Johnson representative declined to comment. No one from Silsbee Ford was immediately available to comment.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Austin school district chooses buyers for high-profile properties
Austin school district chooses buyers for high-profile properties

Austin school leaders are moving forward with the sales of the district’s downtown headquarters, the Baker Center and the Millett Opera House (home of the Austin Club), among other surplus properties. The school board next Monday is scheduled to vote on the sales of these properties: • The Carruth Center, the 2.7-acre district headquarters...
Rally planned tonight at Austin City Hall for Transgender Day of Remembrance
Rally planned tonight at Austin City Hall for Transgender Day of Remembrance

A rally is planned tonight at Austin City Hall as part of the international Transgender Day of Remembrance. The purpose of this event is to raise awareness of hate crimes committed against the transgender community. Austin’s event will begin at 7:30 p.m.   The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was...
Lawsuit prompts UT to lift student’s suspension for sexual misconduct
Lawsuit prompts UT to lift student’s suspension for sexual misconduct

The University of Texas has lifted – at least for now – the suspension of a student it accused of sexual misconduct for having sex with another student who says she was intoxicated when she gave consent after a 2016 sorority formal. In a document filed Monday in U.S. Western District Court, the university asked a federal judge to cancel...
Union leader: Border agent might have been beaten to death with rocks

A U.S. Border Patrol agent who was killed while on patrol in West Texas might have been beaten to death by attackers wielding rocks, according to the president of the National Border Patrol Council. Brandon Judd, president of the labor union, said Agent Rogelio Martínez, 36, died Sunday of blunt force trauma to the head. “I have been told...
Proposed police contract heads for City Council after union approval
Proposed police contract heads for City Council after union approval

After approval from the Austin police union, a proposed five-year police employment contract is now ready to go to the Austin City Council, which will decide whether to implement it or scrap it. The proposed deal, approved by 85 percent of the union members, would raise officers’ base pay 9.5 percent over five years. Patrol officers also...
More Stories