Ford can refuse to sell police cars to Florida law enforcement agencies that join a lawsuit against the automaker over fuel tank fires, a judge has ruled.


Circuit judge Robert Barron denied Okaloosa county sheriff Charlie Morris’ request that he order Ford to resume selling cars to the department, The Associated Press (AP) reported. Ford has refused to sell any more Crown Victoria Police Interceptors to Morris since July 2003, a year after he sued.


The suit reportedly claims the full-size, V8 powered, four-door sedans have exploded in flames when struck from behind at high speed because of poor design, in some cases killing police officers.


AP said Barron granted class-action status last month, permitting hundreds of Florida law enforcement agencies to join the lawsuit. No deadline for potential plaintiffs to join or opt out has been set.


Barron said that case law establishes a company’s right to refuse to do business with any customer.


With Barron’s ruling in hand, Ford also will refuse to sell the cars to any other agency that participates in the suit, company lawyer David Cannella told AP.


“It’s fundamentally illogical for Sheriff Morris to, on one hand, sue us and, on the other hand, seek the court to order (Ford) to sell him more vehicles,” Cannella said.


According to the Associated Press, one of Morris’ attorneys, Don Barrett, has said the sheriff firmly believes the police interceptors are defective but he wants to buy new ones to replace aging cars because seeking other vehicles would be more costly.


Morris’ lawyers reportedly say there have been 14 accidents nationwide in which police interceptors caught fire after being rear-ended. Ford attorneys say that represents only .01% of police interceptors on the road. None of Morris’ cars have been involved.


Ford also has installed protective shields on the back of the rear-wheel drive cars, which have received five-star crash ratings from federal vehicle safety inspectors, company lawyers told AP.


Since Ford refused to sell the police interceptors, Morris has bought Ford Explorers and may start buying Chevrolet Impalas, which meet Florida Sheriffs Association vehicle safety standards, Barrett said, according to the Associated Press.