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May 15, 2004

Back at the old test-rigging game

Ten years after litigation consultants helped NBC News stage fake "tests" which supposedly proved a GM truck vulnerable to fuel-tank puncture (see "It Didn't Start With Dateline NBC", our 1993 effort), you have to wonder whether much has changed. "Ford Motor Co. says Dallas rigged a crash test that purported to show that the Crown Victoria is vulnerable to deadly fuel tank explosions even when equipped with safety gear. Ford said its inspection of the car used in the test showed that items in the trunk had been welded together, including a crowbar that was aimed at the back wall of the fuel tank." The test was paid for by personal injury lawyers representing the city of Dallas in a lawsuit over the death last year of police officer Patrick Metzler, who died when his Crown Victoria was rear-ended by a drunk driver at high speed. ("Dallas rigged Crown Victoria crash test, automaker alleges", AP/Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Sept. 18.) In the 75-mph test, the vehicle's trunk was filled with "items that the city said were commonly found in a police officer's trunk", which turned out to include a crowbar welded to a vehicle jack -- just the sort of contraption an officer might lug around to traffic stops, no? Ford, which discovered such details only later on when it was allowed to inspect the test vehicle during litigation, "criticized the city for not disclosing the artificial conditions when reporting its testing results." Reinforcing the sense of deja vu, Center for Auto Safety head and trial lawyer chum Clarence Ditlow publicly defended the use of the peculiar trunk contents as legitimate, the same way he defended NBC's use of hidden rockets back then. ("Ford Questions Dallas Crash Tests", AP/Primedia, Sept. 18; "City calls Crown Victoria tests 'valid'", Dallas Business Journal, Sept. 18). "Mark Arndt, the president of the company that oversaw the testing, is himself an expert witness for the City of Dallas in its lawsuit against Ford. Arndt makes his living as a hired gun testifying against carmakers." (Mike Scott, "City's crash test spawns controversy", reprinted at Houston Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse site). For trial lawyers' side on the Crown Victoria controversy, see Ditlow's Center for Auto Safety; Dallas City Hall; and Crown Victoria Safety Alert. For Ford's side, see

[cross-posted from Overlawyered, where it ran Nov. 5, 2003]

Posted by Walter Olson at 06:32 PM | TrackBack (0)

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