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'Tire-Eating' Ford Focus Case Revived by 9th Circuit

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on December 07, 2015 5:59 AM

In a breach of warranty case affecting many Focus owners, the Ninth Circuit reversed a lower court's ruling that plaintiffs who owned 'tire-eating' Ford Focus models from 2005-11 failed to show that the cars became unsalable within the duration of implied warranty.

Judge Donald Mallor twisted the knife further when he found that the language of the express warranty was ambiguous. He slapped Ford under the doctrine of contra proferentem.

"Tire-Eating" Focus

Plaintiffs who had purchased Ford Focus models sold from 2005-2011 had to contend with an annoying characteristic of the car's suspension: it was either set defectively at Ford, or was defectively designed. Indications point to excessively wide ranges of toe-in and camber of tires.

Whatever the nature of the defect, the car would "eat" tires (through accelerated tire wear) to the point of breaching warranty. This led to several safety hazards including diminished handling and the "threat of catastrophic tire failure," according to the three-judge-panel. Plaintiffs contend that Ford knew of this defect and should have disclosed this to them.

Lower Court's Ruling

Remarkably, Ford convinced the lower district court to rule for them based on the notion that plaintiffs did not prove reliance on the implied warranty. Judge Molloy cited Mexia v. Rinker Boat Co. and said that the case did not "create a deadline for [plaintiffs] to discover latent defects or" to give notice to the seller.

The judge also reversed as to the ruling on express warranty. He found that Ford's express warranty was ambiguous, despite Ford's attempts to characterize is simply as a "materials and workmanship" warranty, and that any ambiguity would otherwise need to be interpreted against the company -- or at least the lower court was in error in finding for Ford regarding the express warranty claims.

Future Ford Focus Failures Foreclosed?

Eric Grant, the attorney who represents the plaintiffs expressed his pleasure at the Ninth Circuit's decision. At this point, it has been established that over 82,000 California buyers of Ford Focus vehicles will be able to certify as a class.

On a more sour note, it's a virtual certainty that Ford's GC will scrutinize the exact language of the warranty clauses in their purchase contracts to make them even toothier. And who's to say if they'll fix the cars' suspension, too.

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