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In re Ford Motor Company

May 14, 1999

IN RE FORD MOTOR COMPANY IGNITION SWITCH PRODUCTS LIABILITY LITIGATION
TERI SNODGRASS, ROBERT L. BAKER, WILLIAM CARTER, KENDALL ELLIS, JILL P. FLETCHER, JUDITH SHEMNITZ, FRANK SHERRON, TAMAZ TAL, JAMES J. AND KAY NAVE, LARRY W. AND PAMELA GEORGE, MARGIE MAYES, AND JEFFREY SWIKLINSKI, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED,
PLAINTIFFS,
V.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY AND UNITED TECHNOLOGIES AUTOMOTIVE, INC.,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge

MDL No. 1112

OPINION

APPEARANCES: All Counsel on the Attached Service List

Of all the cases assigned to this court in this Multidistrict Litigation involving claims of allegedly defective ignition switches in various models of Ford vehicles, the present Snodgrass case is the only one brought on behalf of vehicle owners who have actually experienced fires or other damage to their cars or trucks allegedly caused by the ignition switch. Other aspects of this Multidistrict Litigation have previously been decided, *fn1 and the Snodgrass plaintiffs' motion for class certification is due shortly.

This matter is before the court on the motion of defendants Ford Motor Company ("Ford") and United Technologies Automotive, Inc. ("UTA") for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Ford and UTA seek dismissal of the deceptive trade practices claims plaintiffs have brought under various state consumer protection statutes on the ground that plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Ford also seeks dismissal of plaintiffs' breach implied warranty of merchantability claims on the ground that they are untimely under the applicable statutes of limitations and its disclaimer of liability for vehicle malfunctions that occur more than 12 months or 12,000 miles after their original retail sale. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants in part and denies in part Ford and UTA's motion for judgment on the pleadings with respect to plaintiffs' deceptive trade practices claims, and denies Ford's motion for judgment on the pleadings with respect to plaintiffs' breach of implied warranty of merchantability claims.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs in this putative class action ("the Snodgrass plaintiffs") are owners of Ford vehicles who seek to represent a nationwide class of people whose Ford vehicles have been damaged or destroyed by fires originating in the steering column/dash area due to an allegedly defective ignition switch manufactured by UTA. Plaintiff Teri Snodgrass is presently the lead plaintiff of this group, which is comprised of a consolidation of two separate actions originally filed in this court. *fn2 The first of these consolidated actions, Wilks v. Ford Motor Co., Civil Action No. 96-1814 (JBS), was commenced on April 19, 1996. The Snodgrass plaintiffs filed their Third Amended Complaint on May 15, 1998. *fn3

There are twelve representative plaintiffs named in the Third Amended Complaint: *fn4

§ Plaintiff Teri Snodgrass, a resident of Manson, Washington, purchased a used 1989 Thunderbird in Washington in October 1990. Snodgrass alleges that the vehicle was totally destroyed by a fire that originated in the steering column/dash area due to a defective ignition switch on June 9, 1996. (Third Amended Complaint at ¶ 5(a));

§ Plaintiff Robert L. Baker, a resident of Newton, Massachusetts, purchased a new 1986 Aerostar in Massachusetts on August 16, 1986. Baker alleges that the vehicle was totally destroyed by a fire that originated in the steering column/dash area due to a defective ignition switch on May 9, 1993. (Id. at ¶ 5(c));

§ Plaintiff William Carter, a resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, purchased a new 1990 Mustang in Ohio on December 5, 1990. Carter alleges that the vehicle was extensively damaged by a fire that originated in the wiring harness of the ignition switch due to a defective ignition switch on June 26, 1994. (Id. at ¶ 5(d));

§ Plaintiff Kendall Ellis, a resident of South Haven, Mississippi, purchased a new 1987 F-150 in Mississippi on September 4, 1987. Ellis alleges that the vehicle was extensively damaged by a fire that originated in the steering column/dash area due to a defective ignition switch on May 31, 1995. (Id. at ¶ 5(e));

§ Plaintiff Jill Fletcher, a resident of Hudson, Massachusetts, purchased a used 1989 Crown Victoria in Massachusetts on October 14, 1995. Fletcher alleges that the vehicle was totally destroyed by a fire that originated in the ignition switch due to a defective ignition switch on April 17, 1996. (Id. at ¶ 5(f));

§ Plaintiff Judith Shemnitz, a resident of South Easton, Massachusetts, purchased a new 1990 Tempo in Massachusetts on June 11, 1990. Shemnitz alleges that the vehicle was totally destroyed by a fire that originated in the steering column/dash area due to a defective ignition switch on May 10, 1996. (Id. at ¶ 5(g));

§ Plaintiff Frank Sherron, a resident of Kansas City, Missouri, purchased a used 1992 Ranger in Missouri on February 26, 1994. Sherron alleges that the vehicle was extensively damaged by a fire that originated in the steering column/dash area due to a defective ignition switch on April 25, 1996. (Id. at ¶ 5(h));

§ Plaintiff Tamaz Tal, a resident of Regal Park, New York, purchased a used 1988 Lincoln Towncar in New York on April 29, 1993. Tal alleges that the vehicle was damaged by a fire that originated in the steering column/dash area due to a defective ignition switch one day in the fall of 1994. (Id. at ¶ 5(j));

§ Plaintiffs James J. and Kay F. Nave, residents of Seward, Nebraska, purchased a used 1989 Mercury Grand Marquis on January 24, 1992. The Naves allege that the vehicle was totally destroyed by a fire that originated in the steering column/dash area due to a defective ignition switch on March 14, 1996. (Id. at ¶ 5(k));

§ Plaintiffs Larry W. and Pamela George, residents of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, purchased a used 1985 Mark VII in Oklahoma on October 6, 1995. The Georges allege that the vehicle was totally destroyed by a fire that originated in the steering column/dash area due to a defective ignition switch on April 8, 1996. (Id. at ¶ 5(l));

§ Plaintiff Margie Mayes, a resident of Grottoes, Virginia, purchased a new 1992 Mercury Cougar XR-7 in Virginia in September 1991. Mayes alleges that the vehicle was totally destroyed (and her garage, its contents and a nearby cottage substantially damaged) by a fire that originated in the steering column/dash area due to a defective ignition switch on December 13, 1994. (Id. at ¶ 5(m));

§ Plaintiff Jeffrey Swiklinski, a resident of Freeport, Pennsylvania, purchased a new 1990 Escort LX in Pennsylvania on December 28, 1989. Swiklinski alleges that the vehicle was totally destroyed by a fire that originated around the steering column due to a defective ignition switch on June 21, 1995. (Id. at ¶ 5(n)).

These named plaintiffs seek to represent a broad class of owners of the following models and model years whose vehicles were destroyed or damaged by a fire caused by a defective ignition switch: Aerostar 1986-91; Bronco 1984-91; Bronco II 1984-90; Capri 1984-86; Continental 1984-87; Cougar 1984-93*; Crown Victoria 1984-89; Escort 1984-90; E-Series 1984-93*; EXP 1984-88; Explorer 1991-93*; F-Series 1984-91; Grand Marquis 1984-89; Lincoln 1984-89; LTD 1984-86; Lynx 1984-87; Mark 1984-92; Marquis 1984-86; Mustang 1984-93*; Ranger 1984-93*; Tempo 1984-93*; Thunderbird 1984-93*; Topaz 1984-93*. (Id. at ¶ 6(a).) *fn5 The plaintiffs have also proposed various sub-classes of models and model years. (Id. at ¶ 6(b).)

According to the Third Amended Complaint, Ford installed the same or similar defective ignition switches manufactured and designed by UTA in each of the vehicles in the proposed class beginning in model year 1984. (Id. at ¶ 7.) The ignition switches were defectively designed and manufactured because they are susceptible to electrical short circuits which can and do cause overheating and fires, either while the vehicle is being driven or while the vehicle is parked and the engine is not running. (Id.) In August 1992, UTA began to incorporate a design change in the ignition switch that Ford and UTA developed after numerous fires had been attributed to the original ignition switch. (Id. at ¶ 8.) The redesigned ignition switches began to appear on the market in new Ford vehicles by mid-1993. (Id.) However, both Ford and UTA "knew, recklessly disregarded, or should have known" of the defective ignition switch before it was first installed in the vehicles that ...


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