DETROIT -- A federal judge ruled Chrysler Corp. Chairman Lee Iacocca does not have to appear in court in a $3 million suit charging Ford Motor Co., his former employer, built cars with gas tanks that explode in crashes.
A court spokesman said Thursday Judge James Churchill ruled Iacocca does not have to be questioned personally in the suit. However, in a ruling last week, the judge said attorneys could submit written questions to Iacocca and can question other Ford employees.
The spokesman said it was not clear whether this includes Henry Ford II, who was subpoenaed along with Iacocca and former president Richard Nixon in the case.
Peggy and Donald Sweet of Mechanicsburg, Ill., filed suit in federal court in Springfield seeking damages for a 1977 accident in which the gas tank of their standard-size Ford station wagon exploded in a collision with a semi-truck.
Mrs. Sweet and her son, Philip, were badly burned.
Attorneys for the Sweets contend Ford and Iacocca met with Nixon in April 1971 to discuss the possibility of weakening federal fuel tank safety standards. They claim Ford relaxed its standards shortly after the meeting.
Iacocca was Ford president at the time but was fired and joined Chrysler a year later.
If submitting written questions to Iacocca or questioning Ford officials does not provide what the attorneys need, Churchill said, Iacocca could be subpoenaed again.
Iacocca's attorney, Richard Braun II, said he was satisfied with the judge's ruling and would abide by it. He predicted, however, attorneys for the Sweets likely would not contact Iacocca again because they will be able to learn what they need about the meeting from Ford officials.
Ford's attorneys are trying to quash a subpoena issued to the former chairman of the automaker. An Illinois judge twice has refused to block the subpoena.