Did Ford Motor Co. and a Los Angeles dealership merely engage in puffery in promoting the SecuriLock electronic anti-theft device on the 1988 Explorer?
Or did they make a legally enforceable warranty and engage in misrepresentation, as customer Emily Greines contends?
That's up to a jury to resolve, the California Court of Appeal ruled as it reinstated Greines' suit.
Before Greines leased the new Explorer, the court said, a sales agent told her that SecuriLock would prevent it from being started or driven without a specially coded key.
A sales brochure and owner's manual contained similar statements, the court said.
Six months later, the locked vehicle was stolen from in front of her home and found three weeks later with the ignition punched out.
She sued for punitive and compensatory damages and to have the Explorer recalled, according to her lawyer, Feris Greenberger of Los Angeles.
She no longer has the vehicle but incurred $2,879 in expenses.
Ford and the dealership denied liability and argued that they had represented that SecuriLock would only "protect against theft, not that it would prevent theft, and that their representations were only sales puffery," the court said.
The court revived the lawsuit, which had been dismissed without trial.
It cited expert testimony that the thief had circumvented SecuriLock, as well as evidence of internal Ford e-mails discussing SecuriLock's potential failure.
The court expressed skepticism about Ford's theory that thieves had towed, pushed or transported the Explorer from Greines' densely populated neighborhood without hot-wiring it.
"The evidence supports a reasonable inference that a thief started the engine and drove the vehicle," Judge Patti Kitching said.
Ford spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes says the decision wasn't a ruling on the merits of Greines' claim.
Vokes describes SecuriLock as a state-of-the-art system.
"Unfortunately, there is no system that can prevent all modes of auto theft, such as towing or pushing vehicles from where they are parked," she says.
Vokes says Ford presented evidence that the system had prevented the thief from driving the plaintiff's Explorer, which "was found by police five blocks from her home, covered in parking tickets dating back to the time it was stolen."
You can send e-mail to Eric Freedman at [email protected]