In 2011, four people led a group of 82,000 people, all buyers and leasers of the Ford Focus sedan in California from 2005 to 2011, to file a suit against Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F). Their complaint was that the particular vehicle had defective rear suspensions which made the tires wear out fast, and made the car hard to control and unsafe for driving, especially on wet and snowy roads.
The specific issue was a problematic alignment which affected the steering and braking control of the car, which could make the fall in accident situations. The premature tire wear caused by the defective alignment also meant that the customers had to change their new rare tires quicker than usual.
At that time, the suit was dismissed because the judge stated that the customers did not bring their complaints to light before the expiration of the warranty period instituted by law in California – one year.
Meanwhile, Ford also refused to accept the charges, stating that they do not sell defective vehicles. They also stated that customers had the responsibility to check and maintain their tires regularly to ensure that they were safe for use.
The plaintiffs went on to appeal the ruling, and this Wednesday, a federal appeals court reinstated the suit. The appeals court ruled that the kind of defect involved in the particular case could not be included in the one-year warranty period because it can be categorized as a ‘latent defect’. The car could have been driven for a while before the defect would be noticed – the plaintiffs.
Moreover, the lawyer of the plaintiffs, Eric Grant quoted a message that Ford Motor had sent to dealers which stated clearly that the Ford Focus 2005 to 2011 could exhibit early tire wear, and the vehicle might have less control ability when driven on wet or snowy roads.
The appeals court concluded that if Ford Motor had instructed its dealers to disclose the message, the customers might not have bought the vehicles.
The plaintiffs’ lawyer revealed that Ford had redesigned the rear suspension of the Ford Focus in 2012, which might have caused the plaintiffs to appeal the earlier dismissal of the lawsuit. The customers want Ford to replace the defective suspension with the redesigned ones.
However, federal regulators would also have to determine that the rear suspension of the 2005 to 2011 Ford Focus is indeed defective.