4th Oct 2014
I just attended an argument in federal court here in South Florida regarding a class action lawsuit by Ford Explorer owners and lessors alleging the automaker mislead consumers about a very serious defect in the vehicles’ exhaust system that exposes passengers to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. (Sanchez-Knutson v. Ford Motor Company, case number 0:14-cv-61344, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.)
The complaint alleges that when the air conditioning is on in models manufactured between 2011 and 2013, the exhaust leaks into the passenger cabin posing a major health risk to those in the cars and a corresponding safety risk to people on the road.
According to the class action complaint, Ford knew of the problem. Evidently, an internal technical service bulletin distributed by Ford to its dealerships confirms this. The complaint further states that Ford provided dealerships with instructions on how handle the smell in the vehicles but did not specify that carbon monoxide was seeping into the cabins. Predictably, all of this has grabbed the attention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which has announced that it is looking into the exhaust allegations.
I have been lead counsel in national class actions which successfully worked their way through the federal court system and I have therefore seen the best and worst of lawyers plodding through the process. Fortunately for the Explorer emission victims, the Shanchez-Knutson matter is being handled by some of the very best lawyers I have ever known, Bob Kelley and John Uustal of the Fort Lauderdale firm of Kelley Uustal PLC. But what influenced me to write about this issue today is the outrageous position taken by Ford’s counsel in court this past week. Essentially counsel contended that the plaintiffs have no right to be in court: that under the Magnuson-Moss Act, the Florida’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and the warranty claims are flawed. Ford has stock arguments for all of this based primarily on the manner in which it writes its warranties. As one federal judge described similar defenses in a case brought against BMW for alleged defects, the “no liability” position “is nothing if not audacious.” If Ford is correct, then a manufacturer’s warranty on a new vehicle is enforceable by nobody.
I would enjoy hearing from other Explorer owners from around the country just to see if they are experiencing similar issues. Capable as her lawyers really are, I am sure that Ms. Sanchez-Knutson would welcome the support of other Explorer owners from around the country as she is fighting an industry giant.