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.
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.
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.
“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.