4/3/2014 10:57:00 AM,
Philip A. Janquart
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Ford Motor Company must face a class action accusing it of actively concealing defective coolant pumps in certain hybrid models from 2005 to 2008.
A federal judge granted the car manufacturer only partial dismissal on Friday, in a case
brought by three drivers who say their Ford hybrids shut down in traffic because of a defective coolant pump.
Plaintiffs Jean MacDonald, Veronica Aguirre and Brian Barbee bought or leased 2005 to 2008 Ford Escape Hybrids, or 2006 to 2008 Mercury Mariner Hybrid vehicles.
They claim that their vehicles equipped with the Motor Electronic Cooling System (MECS) "contain defective coolant pumps that cause the vehicles to unexpectedly shut down," and that Ford knew of the defect since at least 2005, but "actively concealed and failed to disclose" it to consumers.
MacDonald says she was driving her 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid on the freeway in December 2012 when a safety light came on, and the vehicle inexplicably shut down. The hybrid had about 43,000 miles on the odometer.
A Ford dealership ultimately identified a defective MECS coolant pump and fixed the problem for about $767.
The other lead plaintiffs had similar experiences, with Barbee's car trouble manifesting after about 47,000 miles. Aguirre's happened at 62,000 miles and again at 125,000 miles, forcing two separate repairs at a cost of more than $1,500.
Ford refused to pay for the repairs, the car owners claim.
They sued the company in June 2013 for alleged violations of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA), the Unfair Competition Law (UCL), the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.
Ford moved to dismiss all four counts for failure to state a claim.
U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar dismissed the warranty claims as time-barred, but allowed the CLRA and UCL claims to proceed.
"Plaintiffs allege a number of facts to support their claim that Ford was aware of the coolant pump defect," Tigar wrote. "These include allegations that Ford had access to pre-production testing, pre-release testing data, early consumer complaints made exclusively to Ford, high levels of repair order and warranty reimbursements, testing conducted in response to complaints, replacement part sales data and aggregate data from Ford dealers."
The plaintiffs also cite complaints taken from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a 2006 interview with Ford's Hybrid Electric Vehicle Propulsion System Engineering Manager Tom Watson.
In the interview, Watson "mentions problems with the coolant pump, as well as three internal Technical Service Bulletins detailing problems that Ford had with the coolant pump, one from 2005, before the plaintiffs' purchases, and two others from July and November 2008, post-dating their purchases," Tigar explained.
He said the specifics provided in the complaint "allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."
"One plausible inference that can be drawn from the three [bulletins] is that Ford was generally aware of problems with the coolant pump and that despite this awareness it continued to sell vehicles containing the defective part," Tigar wrote.
He gave the plaintiffs 14 days to amend their warranty claims.