A federal judge in Tampa, Fla., has refused to dismiss breach of warranty and deceptive trade practices claims in a class-action lawsuit involving allegedly defective front brake assemblies on 1999-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees.
DaimlerChrysler Corp. had asked U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. to dismiss the case without trial, arguing in court papers that the claims were "based on nothing more than allegations of disappointed expectations."
But Moody disagreed, allowing lead plaintiff Jerome Rothstein, of Sarasota, Fla., to proceed. The judge has not yet ruled on whether to certify the case as a class action on behalf of all Florida owners.
"By claims of its customers, DCX was on notice that the Grand Cherokee's front brake assemblies were defective and not fit for their intended purpose," the complaint alleged.
It also accused the company of concealing the existence and nature of the purported defects from Rothstein and other purchasers, although dealerships were notified through technical service bulletins.
Michael Palese, a DaimlerChrysler spokesman, said in a statement that the company disputes the allegations and that "it's important to note that there is absolutely no safety issue involved."
Rothstein bought a new 2003 Grand Cherokee from a Sarasota dealership. It came with a 36-month/36,000-mile basic warranty but only a 1-year/ 12,000-mile warranty on the brakes.
The rotors were turned at about 14,400 miles without charge as a goodwill gesture, and Rothstein paid to replace the warped rotors at about 28,000 miles. DaimlerChrysler argued in court papers that the warranty had expired by then and that Rothstein merely wanted "reimbursement for repair costs incurred outside the written warranty period."
In his decision, Moody stressed that Rothstein alleged that the entire front brake assembly was defective, not merely the rotors, so the claims "are not clearly outside the scope of the express warranty." But, he said, DaimlerChrysler can seek dismissal again "if it is ultimately determined the rotors were the only defective part."
DaimlerChrysler denies any false or deceptive conduct, saying it hadn't promised that the braking system "would last for a set number of miles." But Moody said the company ignored the allegation that it "knew the braking system was defective at the time of sale and concealed that fact" from Rothstein.
The company also contended that the case should be tossed out because Rothstein voluntarily paid for the repairs. But Moody said the company's reasoning would force consumers to use unsafe vehicles or forgo using them until litigation ends.
Moody did provisionally dismiss a separate breach of contract claim but allowed Rothstein to clarify it.
Palese said DaimlerChrysler intends to defend itself vigorously in the case.
The plaintiff's Florida lawyer referred questions to lead counsel in New Jersey, who did not return phone calls.
You may e-mail Eric Freedman at [email protected]