LANSING, Mich. - The Michigan Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the dismissal of a suit against Ford Motor Co. and a Detroit-area dealership, saying that the owner of a 1996 Mercury Sable had failed to prove that a persistent 'grunting' noise substantially had impaired the car's value or use.
Immediately after Meryland Harris drove the new car off the lot of Diamond Lincoln-Mercury Inc. in Royal Oak, Mich., she noticed the sound when turning to the right. Harris returned the car several times to Diamond, where efforts to resolve the problem were unsuccessful, the court said. At one point, the dealership told her about a technical service bulletin that indicated the noise was an engineering problem Ford was working to correct.
Less than five months after buying the car, Harris sued Diamond and Ford for breach of implied and express warranty, revocation and violation of Michigan's consumer protection and lemon laws.
While the case was pending, another dealership replaced a leaking power steering hose, but that measure also failed to stop the noise. Harris came back two months later, still complaining about the noise, but she failed to comply with a request that she leave the car or return the next week.
At trial in Wayne County Circuit Court, Harris testified that she was worried about her safety and had lost confidence in the car and that the noise diminished the car's value and use.
However, her automotive mechanic expert witness was unable to determine whether the noise and vibration constituted a safety concern.
Before Ford and the dealership offered any witnesses or evidence, Judge Kathleen MacDonald granted the defense motion to dismiss the suit.
The three-judge appeals court panel affirmed that decision, finding no basis to reinstate the suit.
'Although Harris has suffered with the noise in the car, she has not had a loss of use of the vehicle, nor has there been evidence that the noise creates a safety problem,' the court said.
Harris offered no objective proof, only her personal belief the unrepaired defect substantially impaired the Sable's use or value, the court added.
No further appeal
As for the warranty claims, the court said that Ford and the dealership had continued to fix the Sable and that Harris had refused to let them make additional efforts after her unsuccessful visit to the second dealership.
Harris' lawyer, Mark Romano of Garden City, said the decision was wrong but there will be no further appeal.
'There was evidence that both the use and value of the vehicle was impaired. She testified that she limited her use of the car to only when it was necessary,' he said. 'There were other times she would have liked to use the car but didn't.'
Harris still owns the car, Romano said.
Ford spokeswoman Susan Krusel said the company and dealership were always ready to remedy the problem. She also said the decision sends a 'strong signal' to consumers in lemon law cases that they need reasonable evidence to substantiate their assertions.