Court agrees with FCA to exclude expert testimony in defective vehicle cases

By Charmaine Little | Apr 1, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has granted a motion by the manufacturer of Chrysler vehicles to exclude certain expert testimony in some cases filed over an allegedly defective component in its vehicles.

Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA) filed a motion for summary judgment and requested the court exclude expert testimony in each of the cases. Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero granted in part and denied in part on March 11.

Spero granted the motion to exclude some of the expert testimony and also granted summary judgment in FCA's favor to dismiss the plaintiffs' fraudulent concealment claims.

The plaintiffs, Glen R. Base, Jose Valenzuela de Leon, Kristi M. O'Brien and Jesus Boyzo sued FCA US LLC after alleging the factory-equipped vehicles featured a defective Totally Integrated Power Module (TIPM-7).

U.S. District Court Chief Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero  

They claim that FCA was fully aware of the defect and didn’t offer to repurchase the vehicles after it was clear there were majors issues with them.

Legal claims include breach of express and implied warranties via the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act and fraudulent concealment. 

Spero first reviewed the expert reports from Thomas Lepper, a forensic automotive consultant, and Dr. Barbara Luna, a forensic accounting specialist, and granted a motion to exclude Lepper’s opinions. The plaintiffs designated both as witnesses in their cases.

“Mr. Lepper’s opinions about the TIPM-7 in plaintiffs’ vehicles and their connection to the problems plaintiffs experienced are conclusory and speculative and are not based on any reliable methodology,” Spero wrote.

Spero also granted the motion to exclude testimony from Luna, who provided her thoughts on whether FCA was aware of the defect. 

“…The premise of Dr. Luna’s reports in all of the related cases is that the TIPM-7 was the cause of problems the plaintiffs experienced. Without a reliable basis for that assumption, her opinions that FCA concealed information related to plaintiffs’ vehicles is also unreliable,” Spero wrote.

The judge also agreed with FCA that the claim for fraudulent inducement/concealment should be dismissed since the plaintiffs failed to show there was a material dispute of fact concerning the issue of it purposely withholding information from the plaintiffs to manipulate and defraud them. 

It was also ruled that the plaintiffs could not use evidence that other Chrysler vehicles had allegedly defective TIPMs-7s "to show that the TIPM-7 in their own vehicles caused the problems they experienced," the ruling states.

“Rather, they must point to evidence sufficient to create a question for the jury that the TIPM-7 in their particular vehicles were defective. They have not done so,” Spero wrote, dismissing the claim.

Spero also determined that for Boyzo's and de Leon's cases, the plaintiffs were able to prove they took their vehicles for repairs five timesHowever, Spero said there is no evidence that either of them asked FCA to buy back their vehicles or to be provided with some type of reimbursement. 

Spero found that the Base case was able to establish enough evidence to go forward. Base allegedly took his Dodge Ram for eight repairs from his purchase date in December 2012 and Dec. 8, 2015. The court order states that at that point, he asked FCA to fix the vehicle or replace it altogether. He said his concerns were “escalated” yet he still had issues with his truck. FCA then refused to replace the truck but offered a $1,500 for a release from liability concerning the car issues. Base then sued and FCA issued an offer of compromise for $50,012.56 plus attorneys’ fees and costs.

The court accordingly granted the summary judgment regarding civil penalties for Boyzo's and de Leon's cases and denied the summary judgment in Base’s case.

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