A Texas trial judge has been ordered to reconsider whether to allow class-action status in a lawsuit concerning allegedly defective safety belts in 1987-95 Nissan vehicles.
The suit in Cameron County District Court in Brownsville alleges that two-point motorized safety belt systems installed in those vehicles are unreasonably dangerous. It claims in part that the snugness of the automatic shoulder belt creates a 'sense of false security' that leads users to believe they do not need to engage the lap belt.
The suit seeks damages for breach of implied warranty, breach of express warranties and violation of the state consumer protection law.
District Judge Robert Garza found there were common legal and factual issues and granted the plaintiffs' motion to certify a class made up of all owners of an estimated 153,886 Nissans currently registered in Texas.
He said the common questions include whether Nissan breached its warranties; sold vehicles with inadequate warnings and instructions; and used false, misleading or deceptive business practices.
The plaintiffs estimate their damages are 'several hundred dollars per vehicle,' according to their lawyer, Andrew Schirrmeister of Houston.
On its first review, a Texas Court of Appeals panel in Browns-ville upheld a single class.
Nissan asked for a new hearing that resulted in a unanimous appellate decision that the plaintiffs cannot proceed as a single class because Texas law does not recognize a claim for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability for used vehicles, just new ones.
In an opinion by appeals Judge Frederico Hinojosa, the court said the trial judge could allow the case to proceed through what it called subclasses, one for owners of used vehicles and the other for purchasers of new ones. It also said that the plaintiffs' lawyers must submit a plan for trying the case and for resolving questions in individual owners' claims.
However, the appellate court rejected Nissan Motor Co.'s other objections to class-action status.
Nissan North America Inc. spokeswoman Gina Pasco said, 'Nissan is very pleased that the court of appeals has reversed its previous decision. We're now going to wait and see what happens at the trial level.'
Schirrmeister said, 'We're pre-paring a trial plan and we'll return and ask the trial court to certify' the two subclasses.
You can e-mail Eric Freedman at [email protected]