Roger Kirnos of Knight Law Group secured a maximum civil penalty of $64,000 for Ford Focus owner Mark Pedante in a trial against Ford Motor Company; in which Ford was found guilty of willful violations of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act.
Kirnos said that Pedante would have received nothing if he had remained in a class action lawsuit against Ford, which involved two million owners of 2011–2016 Focus and Fiesta models with DPS6 transmissions.
“Ford would like the class action to sweep up millions of people who will not have any claims or any financial compensation,” Kirnos said. “Of course Ford would like to sweep this under the rug and are unhappy that consumer lawyers […] would actually defend people who can’t otherwise afford to get their defense.”
Litigants in the class action settlement and the multidistrict litigation cases allege that defective DPS6 transmissions cause Ford’s Focus and Fiesta models to “shudder, buck and jerk” uncontrollably. The class action settlement is currently being challenged on the basis of its settlement terms, which a Knight Law attorney on the case called a “sweetheart deal” for Ford.
The original settlement approved by U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. in 2017 included a $35 million cash payment for repairs, plus a buyback program for eligible members. However, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the settlement in September, ruling to vacate the settlement approval 2-1. The settlement faces renegotiation in a February 2020 hearing. The multi-district litigation, of which Pedante was a part, could result in a potential nullification of the settlement.
According to reports from the Detroit Free Press, class members jumping ship and pursuing individual litigation could bring Ford a litigation liability of $4 billion.
“At the time of the original fairness hearing, we had zero info about how much these cases were worth if litigated to a judgment because none had gone to trial,” said Michael Kirkpatrick, a Washington D.C. lawyer and Public Citizen member who challenged the settlement terms. “From the time the district court originally evaluated the settlement and now, we have learned so much more information. That is why we think the risk to Ford has increased.”