Ford Can’t Duck Claims Over Steering Defects

     SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – A federal judge on Tuesday refused to dismiss a class action against Ford Motor Company that claims the automaker concealed defects with its steering system.
     U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh said Ford failed to show the claims put forward by the plaintiffs are not subject to state and federal warranty laws, while their argument that the plaintiffs did not file their warranty claims in a timely manner also fell short.
     In the lawsuit originally filed in June 2014, lead plaintiff William Phillips claims he bought a Ford Fusion in 2012 and immediately encountered problems with the power steering. After repeated complaints to the company, Ford informed him repairs would cost $2,000 until the company finally relented and replaced the power steering as part of a recall performed in 2015.
     “Philips states that he reviewed Ford’s promotional materials and other information and that he would not have purchased his 2011 Ford Fusion had Ford disclosed the Electronic Power-Assisted Steering system defects and failures,” Koh wrote in recapping the class action.
     Other plaintiffs lodged similar complaints to Ford relating to steering problems with the vehicles, and similar to Phillips had trouble with getting the company to perform repairs correcting the defects, Koh said.
     Specifically, the plaintiffs claim that Ford Focus vehicles built between 2010 and 2014 and Ford Fusion vehicles built between 2012 and 2014 are equipped with a defective Electronic Assist Powering Steering system.
     Instead of the traditional power steering pump, Ford used a motor controlled by an electronic system resembling a computer equipped with sensors. The plaintiffs claim the system was subject to routine failures, endangering the drivers who rely on the steering systems by increasing the risk they would lose control of the cars.
     Additionally, they point to an investigation performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2012 that relates to the Ford Explorer. Ford produced internal documents which the plaintiffs claim show the company knew about the defects in its steering system but chose to conceal it.
     The plaintiffs also say that a large number of customers lodged complaints specifically relating to the steering component of the Ford Focus and the Ford Fusion, including two complaints to the NHTSA where drivers were injured in crashes caused by a sudden failure in the power steering system.
     Ford attempted to have the class action dismissed on technical grounds, claiming the plaintiffs forfeited claims in their second amended complaint and did not lodge warranty complaints during the necessary time period.
     Koh found Ford’s arguments insufficient and allowed the suit to proceed.
     Specifically, Koh noted that the Ninth Circuit has already ruled against Ford in a similar defects case by finding that warranty claims brought over the same latent defects in Ford Focuses filed after the one-year duration period should be allowed to advance because the defects existed when the vehicles were sold, regardless of when customers discovered them.
     While the plaintiffs may not be able to provide sufficient evidence at trial that the defects were present when they purchased the vehicles, Koh said that on a motion to dismiss she has to take the plaintiffs’ claims of latent defects as true.
     Koh also declined to dismiss one of the plaintiffs, whose claims involve a vehicle purchased outside the four-year statute of limitations. She noted that California law allows the statute of limitations for warranty cases to be tolled in cases of fraudulent concealment — a claim she has so far refused to dismiss — and said the plaintiffs have so far done enough to show that Ford knew about the defects and hid them from consumers.

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