The Missouri Court of Appeals has allowed the owners of an off-lease Town Car with a defective transmission to pursue a breach-of-warranty claim - even though the regular product liability statute of limitations has run out and the car's warranty has expired.
The court reinstated a lawsuit involving the 1991 Lincoln Town Car with unresolved transmission problems that Ford Motor Co. failed to remedy.
The car, which was originally leased, carried a bumper-to-bumper, limited four-year/50,000-mile warranty. Donald Wienberg and his wife bought the car in April 1992 with 16,613 miles on it. The dealership, Independence (Mo.) Lincoln-Mercury Inc., informed them that they were covered by the balance of warranty.
After the purchase and before the end of the warranty period, 10 repairs were made to resolve mechanical problems. Among them was rebuilding the transmission to attempt to eliminate a loud whine.
The warranty expired in February 1995. At the time, the Town Car had been in the shop at another dealership for several months while the service department tried without success to solve the problem. Ford factory representatives told the service manager nothing more could be done.
Wienberg then followed Ford's instructions to notify the Missouri Dispute Settlement Board, but the board refused to take the case because the warranty had expired. He and his wife then sued Ford and Independence Lincoln-Mercury for the loss in value of the vehicle caused by the transmission defect.
Jackson County Circuit Judge Jack Gant dismissed the case, saying Missouri's four-year statute of limitations period started when the car was first leased, and ran out before the suit was filed. But the appeals court unanimously reinstated the case, ruling that the four-year clock did not begin to tick until the defect in the transmission was discovered in November 1994, less than a year before the suit began.
On May 6, Ford and the dealership asked the appeals court to reconsider the case or to transfer it to the state Supreme Court for review. There has been no ruling on that motion.
Kansas City attorney David Stout, who represents Ford and Independence, said the appellate decision carries broad implications for automakers in Missouri.
'If you warranty (that) a car is free from defects and, three years down the road, something breaks, (the owner) has got four more years to sue,' he said.
Stout also said the decision conflicts with warranty-related court rulings in several other states.
Wienberg's lawyer, Daniel Carter of Warrensburg, said the decision 'opens a lot of doors' for car owners. 'It means that if you take the car in during the warranty period, attempt to fix a known defect and don't fix it, you'll have recourse.'