Crown Victorias, Police Interceptors, Mercurys and the Lincoln Town Cars from 1979, until production stopped in 2011, were built on a common platform known by Ford as the Panther.
These cars have a fuel tank located forward of the trunk, behind the rear axle. In the auto industry this is called a “vertical-behind-the-axle” fuel tank.
While such fuel tanks were common when the Panther platform was developed, after 1979 every new passenger car platform designed by Ford placed the fuel tank forward of the axle where it is protected in rear-end crashes.
In 2001, Ford’s internal investigation determined that a design defect in a component part — tabs on the U-brackets attaching the rear stabilizer bar to the axle — was contributing to a high incidence of post-impact fuel-fed infernos in Panther platform cars.
In high-energy rear crashes, the fuel tank is exposed to these tabs. The tabs puncture the gas tank, gas escapes, and a fire starts which is continually fueled by gas draining from the puncture hole, creating an inferno engulfing the vehicle and occupants in flames. In defective gas tank litigation, this is known as a fuel-fed fire which is horrendous.
Immediately after this discovery Ford changed the bracket design for Panther vehicles in production but did nothing about the known defect in the nearly three million cars on the road.
Instead of notifying consumers or recalling the vehicles, Ford issued a “Technical Service Bulletin” advising repair facilities that the dangerous tabs could be corrected by grinding off the U-bracket tabs — a simple process that could be done with the U-brackets in place and without removing the bracket from the vehicle.
Police vehicles have an above-average likelihood of freeway speed rear-impact collision due to chases and the common practice of parking on the side of the road in traffic stops. After a number of high-profile crash fires causing severe burn injuries and the deaths of police officers, police organizations and state authorities urged that Ford develop a more permanent and effective solution to the problem.
In response in 2002, Ford developed a safety kit for the police cars that shielded the axles and sections of the undercarriage that could puncture the gas tank in a rear-end collision. Ford called the necessary safety retrofit an “Upgrade Kit”. Police Interceptor vehicle owners and government fleet customers were notified of the availability of the safety shield kit in late 2002 and early 2003, which was provided free of charge to all Police Interceptor vehicles in service.
In March 2004, Ford conducted two 100 miles per hour crash tests that validated the shield safety kit as a significant improvement in the fuel safety system of the Panther. When rear-ended by a full size 1992 Crown Victoria, the gas tank of the targeted 1996 police Crown Victoria with a fuel tank safety shield kit performed perfectly. The crash resulted in a major intrusion of the bumper and trunk into the fuel tank location, yet the gas tank leaked only milliliters of test solvent, which did not constitute a fire hazard; in a second test a small amount of test solvent was released at a slow rate of leakage, which if gasoline would present a readily escapable fire.
Ford’s crash tests confirmed the effectiveness of the shield safety kit in protecting the gas tank in high impact rear-end collisions from gas tank punctures and resulting infernos.
Despite that fact, Ford decided not to notify—and in fact never notified—the consumers owning and driving Panther platform vehicles of the availability of a safety shield kit.
Contact an Experienced Product Liability & Defective Products Attorney
Alexander Law Group, LLP attorneys are available to answer questions and share our knowledge of the law and the results of our research and experience. Our goal as personal injury lawyers is to make a difference for our clients. Every day we deal with a range of health and safety issues that most people do not encounter until after an injury occurs. As safety lawyers we are committed to providing our clients and the public with information for safer and healthier living. Call 888-777-1776 or contact us online to schedule a consultation to see how we can help you.