An Ohio appeals panel has affirmed the dismissal of a lemon law suit involving a 1996 Ford Probe, finding no violations of either state law or the vehicle's limited warranty.
A malfunctioning 'check engine' warning light did not substantially impair the safety of the vehicle, the court held, and Ford Motor Co. fulfilled all its legal obligations in handling the owner's complaints about it during the warranty period.
According to Ohio Court of Appeals, Louise LaBonte bought the car new from T.E. Clarke Ford in Hudson with a three-year, 36,000-mile limited warranty.
She brought the car to the dealership only twice during the warranty period, first at 17,784 miles and again at 21,158 miles, complaining each time about the warning light. Each time, mechanics failed to find any problems with the engine or emission control system but made adjustments that resolved the warning light problem.
After passing 36,000 miles, LaBonte brought her Probe to Clarke six more times, complaining about the 'check engine' warning light. The situation ultimately was resolved after Ford issued a technical service bulletin and a special service message to dealerships about a software glitch.
Twenty-two months and 63,000 miles after the purchase, LaBonte's lawyer sent a demand letter to Ford to revoke acceptance of the car and seek a full refund plus attorney fees. She then sued Ford, but not the dealership, for damages.
The case was dismissed without trial in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. The Ohio Court of Appeals unanimously upheld that decision.
In an opinion by Judge James Sweeney, the court said the value and safety of the Probe were not impaired substantially, a requirement for a successful lemon law claim. 'The warning light problem in no way affected the operation of the engine, drivetrain or mechanical functioning of any system of the vehicle.'
It cited LaBonte's own testimony in a deposition after 90,400 miles that the car never broke down during her ownership.
The court also found no basis for LaBonte's breach-of-warranty claims. Ford spokesman Jim Cain said the decision 'shows you need to base a lemon law claim on a lot more than a malfunctioning warning light, particularly when you've driven the car more than 90,000 miles.'
LaBonte's lawyer, Craig Kahn of Cleveland, said he may ask the appeals court to reconsider its decision.