By Margaret Cronin Fisk
and Harlan Spector
Ford Motor Co. didn’t break pricing contracts with commercial truck dealers or overcharge them, a lawyer said in the retrial of a lawsuit that initially resulted in a $2 billion judgment against the automaker.
Ford used a competitive price assistance program that provided discounts to some individual dealers to help them make sales, said James Feeney, a Ford lawyer, in his opening statement in Ohio state court in Cleveland. The contract didn’t bar such discounts and all dealers had equal access to the program, he said.
“Discounting was absolutely essential to make sales,” Feeney told the jury of three men and five women on Monday. “The program was fair.”
The dealers sued Ford in 2002, claiming the company broke an agreement to sell trucks at published prices, which forced them to pay more from 1987 through 1998. Cuyahoga County Judge Peter J. Corrigan in 2011 awarded $2 billion, including about $1.2 billion in interest, to a class of about 3,000 dealers.
A state appeals court ordered a new trial last year, finding Corrigan improperly excluded evidence that might have helped the company. The dealers will be seeking $2 billion again, plus more interest, said James Lowe, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, in a pretrial interview.
The liability is “pretty clear,” Lowe said. “The contract was breached and if not for that breach the dealers would have gotten lower prices.”
The dealers’ legal team made its opening statement Friday.
Ford has denied any breaches or overcharging. The company has also asked Corrigan, who is conducting the new trial, to reverse his 2005 decision allowing the dealers to pursue the claims as a group.
Corrigan said he would consider Ford’s motion to decertify the class after evidence is presented and before the jury deliberates.