A watershed case which ignited the fury of corporate interests is back in court in Madison County.

One of the venue's most notorious class action lawsuits--in which flaking topcoat auto paint is at issue in Phillips et.al v. Ford Motor Company--is set for a case management conference at 9:30 a.m., Jan. 27 in Granite City before Circuit Judge Philip Kardis.

National and local media attention was drawn to the case when plaintiff's attorney, Brad Lakin of the Lakin Law Firm in Wood River, issued subpoenas to the presidents of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) and the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) after they criticized the county's judicial environment during a joint press conference outside the courthouse in June 2003.

It was a momentous turning point for supporters of legal reform in Madison County.

Lakin's subpoenas called on the groups to provide membership and contributor lists.

The groups claimed they had no ties to the class action case and said Lakin's subpoena tactics were an attempt at intimidation.

In a counter-measure, the ICJL called for sanctions against Lakin for filing the subpoenas.

On July 18, 2003, Lakin withdrew his requests for subpoenas and subsequently Ed Murnane, ICJL president, dropped his case.

Murnane said that even though Lakin dropped his request, it was a "clear admission" that it was a mistake to issue subpoenas.

"It was an example of abuse as an officer of the court," Murnane said.

"Our decision to drop the motion for sanctions was a practical matter. Madison County is a very unfriendly venue for us. We have said some uncomplimentary things and it didn't make any sense to pursue it."

In the class action suit, Phillips asks that Ford be ordered to repair cars with bad paint jobs or pay the dollar amount of a repair, and provide any other relief the court deems just plus all attorney fees.

The case filed on Oct. 26, 1999, claims Ford's electro-deposited epoxy primer paint system was different from the old paint system in that it eliminated the "primer surfacer."

The primer surfacer had been the primary means of shielding the sensitive epoxy primer from UV light which causes the color topcoat to delaminate from the epoxy primer, Phillips alleges. She also claims it has been known for decades that epoxy primers are sensitive to UV light, and that color topcoats delaminate when epoxy primers are not shielded from UV rays.

The new paint system shortened what was a three-step process into a two-step process by eliminating the primer surfacer and applying the topcoat directly onto the epoxy primer coat. The topcoat is now the sole means of shielding the epoxy primer from UV light, Phillips claims.

"Eliminating the primer surfacer saved Ford approximately $10 to $16 per vehicle; however the new paint system produced a paint job with a major flaw as a significant number of vehicles, exposure to sunlight caused the color topcoat to delaminate from the epoxy primer," the complaint states.

Phillips, the owner of a 1990 Ford Taurus on which the topcoat is delaminating, claims Ford began using a new two-coat process to paint cars in the mid 1980s, and unlike the old three-step process, the new system had only two layers--an epoxy primer and a color topcoat. As a result, the topcoat is now the only means of shielding the epoxy primer from sunlight, the suit claims.

Ford recognized that its plants that did not use a primer surfacer could not produce long-lasting paint jobs, and began receiving wide spread complaints of paint flaking off vehicles, according to the suit.

The main cause of the paint flaking off is ultraviolet radiation which penetrates the colorcoat of the vehicle's paint finish, causing a chemical reaction and topcoat flaking.

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The Madison County Record is owned by the Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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