Judge awards former Ford Focus owners $23,000 for problem transmission
A federal judge ordered Ford Motor Co. to pay $23,000 to the owners of a 2014 Ford Focus for violating consumer protection laws.
The plaintiffs, Salvador and Yvonne Quintero, told a federal court of the Central District of California that their Focus — their lease ended in 2017 — had problems with the dual-clutch PowerShift Transmission that "caused them to feel unsafe." That's the same transmission Ford in August extended warranties on 560,000 vehicles to cover.
Multiple lawsuits, including a class-action suit, have been filed on behalf of car owners unhappy with the transmissions, known internally as the DPS6. Dual-clutch gearboxes like the the DPS6 typically shift rougher than other automatic gearboxes to which North American drivers are accustomed. The Ford transmissions also needed frequent repairs for quality issues the developed over time with the clutch and clutch seals, among other things.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found no evidence that the transmissions are a safety risk. Lawsuits allege Ford knew the transmissions were faulty before the vehicles went to market, but no judge or jury has ruled that to be true. Judge Andre Birotte Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, threw out the fraud claims against Ford in the Quintero case.
Ford CEO Jim Hackett moved in August to extend the warranties on those transmissions, which analysts expect will be a hit to the automaker's bottom line. The move also brought Hackett to argue that poor earnings in 2019 aren't all his fault — the hit from the warranty extension is a result of something that happened before he became CEO.
Meantime, the automaker is battling lawsuits surrounding the Focus and Fiesta vehicles it no longer sells in the U.S., and the DPS6 transmissions it no longer uses in the U.S.
The Quinteros opted out of the class-action lawsuit, according to the Knight Law Group LLP, which represented the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs said they stopped using their Focus, but continued to make monthly payments. They were awarded $23,000, triple what they paid on their lease, according to a statement.
Ford spokesman Said Deep said the Quinteros drove the Focus for nearly three years and submitted one formal complaint about the transmission. He said the jury's $23,000 award was less than what Ford offered to the customers more than two years ago as a proposed settlement.
"The case appears to have been motivated by attorneys seeking large fees," said Deep. "Attorney-driven litigation abuse needs closer attention. Vehicles with DPS6 transmission built since the second half of 2015 – and earlier ones with important updates – perform well and have competitive levels of customer satisfaction."
Roger Kirnos, a partner at Knight Law Group, pushed back against the claim that the attorneys are money-hungry. "We've not been paid a dollar while I cannot even fathom what their attorneys have amassed," he said. "It is not motivated by attorney fees."
The Quintero case and another tried earlier this year — both of which Ford lost — were bellwether cases. Those are a selection of lawsuits taken from a larger group of similar cases that act as a practice run of sorts that help both sides anticipate results of the cases. Kirnos said the bellwether cases, while ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, did toss out fraud claims. He said it's unclear what could happen next.
"We'll keep going to bat," he said.
Ford officials have said the automaker acted "right away to resolve the issues" with the transmission and that they automaker regrets that "customers were inconvenienced and frustrated" with the vehicles.
The automaker in August extended the clutch warranty to seven years or 100,000 miles on certain models, the same extension the automaker gave past models. The automaker said those actions would equip all Focus and Fiesta vehicles on the road in the U.S. and Canada with the latest component and software updates for the transmission.
The automaker has pushed back against allegations in lawsuits that it knew the transmissions were faulty, or that they ever made those Ford vehicles dangerous to drive. Ford has said repeatedly that the transmission works, and the vehicles are safe to drive. The transmission hasn't been tied to any injury or death. Owners mostly report the transmission "slipping" or "stuttering."
The automaker settled a $35 million class-action lawsuit in the U.S. that would have it pay current or former owners or lessees of a 2011-16 Ford Fiesta or 2012-16 Ford Focus vehicles up to $2,325 to cover repair costs or up to $4,650 for the purchase of a new vehicle. The automaker paid out millions in Thailand and Australia for consumer issues tied to the transmission.
In February 2018, an appeal filed in U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit argued that that the $35 million settlement was too lenient, and called for the settlement to be vacated.
Kirnos said that most people would receive a better settlement individually than they would through the settlement.