(CN) - Ford must face consumer claims that it concealed known problems with its high-tech MyFord Touch system that could endanger driver safety, a federal judge ruled.
Installed in Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models since 2011, the MyFord Touch "infotainment" system costs $1,795. Incorporating GPS navigation, Sirius satellite radio and Bluetooth communication, the system also controls the heat and air, and may be used to contact emergency services.
A federal class action over the system pending in San Francisco involves car owners from 15 different states alleging Ford knew the system was defective when it sold them their vehicles.
They said the software, made by Microsoft, often freezes, endangering drivers' safety by leaving them unable to defrost windows, operate the rearview camera, or dial 911.
U.S. District Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco upheld the plaintiffs' fraud claims Friday, finding that Ford failed to disclose known problems with the MyTouch system when plaintiffs bought their cars.
"It is more than fair to say that, by 2013, Ford was aware of significant problems with the MFT [MyFord Touch] system. Of course, most plaintiffs purchased or leased their vehicles before 2013 (four in 2010, six in 2011, and eleven in 2012). Prior to 2012, Ford had issued only two TSBs [Technical Service Bulletin] and no updates," Chen wrote. "Nevertheless, it is still reasonable to infer that, if Ford had issued four TSBs and two updates in 2012 alone, Ford should have known of problems with MFT by around 2011, i.e., before it could recommend what repairs or updates needed to be done." (Parentheses in original.)
Ford also failed to show that a car with an inoperable MyFord system is no less safe than a car that never had a system in the first place, the court found.
"It is one thing for a product never to have a feature; it is another for a consumer to have purchased the product with that feature and to depend on that feature, only to have it suddenly malfunction," Chen wrote.
He said the potential for driver distraction makes this especially problematic, but he dismissed most of plaintiffs' breach of express and implied warranty claims.
Eleven plaintiffs failed to timely notify Ford of the breach of warranty, barring them from recovering for the breach in court, and all failed to use the informal dispute settlement procedure set forth in the limited warranty before filing suit.