A US law firm says it will, by the end of this month file suit on behalf of Fiesta and Focus owners against Ford over dry clutch PowerShift automatic transmissions.
Novi, Michigan based Stern Law said 5 September was the final day owners of 2011-16 Ford Fiesta and 2012-16 Focus vehicles equipped with Ford-Getrag PowerShift could opt-out of a controversial class action settlement. Some 4,500 owners opted out between 5 July and 5 September and almost 12,500 in total have now rejected the class action terms to instead pursue their legal rights under a mass action suit led by the law firm.
“Utilising federal consumer protection laws, we will file suit on behalf of the 12,500 claimants by month’s end. We will be seeking a buyback, damages for the abnormal depreciation, out of pocket repair costs, inconvenience, lost wages and more,” said Ken Stern, co-lead lawyer.
“Our firm’s mass action represents a way for clients to seek compensation without worrying about attorney fees or losing any part of their award for representation, as Ford pays all attorney fees.”
Opting out as many as 4,500 owners in a two-month period was part of Stern Law’s larger effort in suing Ford though its mass action, the firm said in a statement.
“More than 25,000 individuals reached out to Stern Law,” the firm said. “However, even working round the clock, the short two month opt out period severely limited the number of participants. [We estimate] thousands more would have joined, but time simply ran out.”
“Having heard from those 25,000 owners, we know we could have easily signed several thousand more if we had more time,” Stern said. “The limitation of a two month opt out period unfairly punished owners that have already been mistreated by Ford.”
The main criticism that lawyers nationwide have with the class action settlement relates to its compensation structure. While owners of these vehicles have historically had success with their claims in the courts, whether through state Lemon Law proceedings or settlements, those who did not opt out of Ford’s class action settlement will now be forced into an arbitration setting to pursue damages for a buyback moving forward. This buyback effort was also tied to an “inconvenience” payout structure that misled many into believing they would receive compensation that, as Stern contends, is almost impossible for many to attain.
“When the Australian government, our 12,500 clients, and countless more that wanted to join the mass action, accuse Ford of deceptive practices regarding the transmission defects, a two month opt out period is simply unacceptable,” Stern said. “This unreasonably shortened opt out period was likely intended to limit the number of those that would be able to opt out, and thereby avoid the class action settlement. This will continue to punish owners that have been misled and defrauded by Ford, as we’ve made clear in our complaint,” he added.
The class action settlement is scheduled for an approval hearing on 2 October. Objections to the settlement will be heard at that time.
Last month, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said it had begun proceedings against Ford Australia alleging that it engaged in unconscionable and misleading or deceptive conduct, and made false or misleading representations in its response to customer complaints about the dry dual clutch automatic transmission sold Down Under for about five years.
The customer complaints were about Focus, Fiesta and EcoSport vehicles supplied in Australia between 2011 and 2016 which had the PowerShift transmission (PST), the ACCC said in a statement.
The ACCC alleges that about half of the 70,000 vehicles sold had at least one repair relating to the PST. Customers complained to Ford and its dealers about their cars’ excessive shuddering and jerking when accelerating, loss of gear selection and sudden loss of power and/or excessive noisiness from the PST.
Ford Europe has dropped the twin clutch transmission for its redesigned Fiesta, replacing it with a conventional torque converter six-speed unit. This was done at least two years ago with the Thai-built Fiesta and Focus models supplied to Australia.