Defense Verdict: Missing Exhaust Parts Claims Defeated by Manufacturer’s Proof

Posted on December 16th, 2016 by Kevin W. KitaKevin Kita

Proving how a truck’s exhaust system was designed and assembled with evidence of aftermarket tampering allowed Sutter O’Connell attorneys, Kevin Kita and Dan Bray, to obtain a favorable verdict on behalf of a major auto manufacturer in Barbourville, Kentucky last week following a two day trial.

After owning a new diesel truck for two years, the owner claimed the truck began experiencing check engine lights, loss of power, and water leaks. Sure enough, the dealer found two major exhaust components were missing and reported it to the manufacturer. However the manufacturer concluded the exhaust repairs were not covered under warranty because the vehicle had been modified. Plaintiff claimed he did not remove the exhaust components or otherwise modify the vehicle.

For two years the truck ran fine, making it unlikely key exhaust parts were omitted during manufacture but the defense offered by Sutter O’Connell was stronger than that. At trial the manufacturer’s engineer responsible for the design and release of the exhaust system into production, discussed the extensive quality assurance processes and procedures that make it impossible for a vehicle to leave the factory without the required components. In addition, an expert technician who inspected the vehicle testified that he found aftermarket software on the vehicle’s computer suggesting the components were intentionally removed to increase vehicle performance.

After having the exhaust warranty claim rejected the owner let the vehicle set for 6 months at the dealership. Then in an effort to resolve the dispute the manufacturer paid to have the vehicle towed to a second dealership to inspect the vehicle. That dealership confirmed the original findings, but rather than paying for the exhaust to be repaired the owner left the vehicle sit for nearly a year and filed suit.

In his suit the owner said he relied on representations by both dealerships that they would get the repairs to the exhaust covered under warranty, providing him what he thought was a way to recover damages  for the loss of use of his truck for about 18 months and a drop in value of the truck over that time due to depreciation and damages under the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act. He claimed his vehicle diminished in value by $30,000 and sought an additional $34,000 in rental expenses for loss of use of his truck. Prior to the jury beginning deliberations, Sutter O’Connell’s motions caused nearly all of plaintiff’s claims to be dismissed by the court, including those for loss of use damages. The court permitted plaintiff to move forward on the breach of express warranty claim for an unrelated water leak to the cab of the truck. A divided 12-person jury found in favor of the plaintiff for a nominal sum reflecting the cost to repair the damage from the alleged water leak. Sutter O’Connell is proud to represent a number of automotive and heavy truck clients, defending their quality products in both warranty and product liability suits.