LOS ANGELES -- A Missouri jury has ordered American Suzuki Motor Corp. to pay one of its dealers in Kansas City about $18.5 million, including $15 million in punitive damages, after finding the carmaker liable for negative publicity that damaged the dealer's business.
The circuit court jury in Jackson County, Mo., ordered American Suzuki to pay Jeremy Franklin, president of Jeremy Franklin Suzuki, damages of about $3.5 million and punitive damages of $15 million.
The lawsuit stems from an advertising campaign run by another local Suzuki dealer and Franklin's brother, Chad Franklin, that promised customers no payments for life when they bought a new Suzuki vehicle. Chad Franklin's "no payments for life" scheme collapsed, and a firestorm of lawsuits and negative publicity ensued.
That negative publicity damaged the Suzuki brand in Kansas City and led consumers to mistakenly believe that Jeremy Franklin's and Chad Franklin's separate, independent Suzuki dealerships were connected, attorneys for Jeremy Franklin argued.
Jeremy Franklin did not participate in the "no payments for life" promotion.
"We see this verdict as a vindication of our commitment to continue to serve our customers and our persistent efforts to grow our business despite all of the confusion," Jeremy Franklin said in a statement. "We look forward to moving on and rebuilding trust in the Suzuki brand name in Kansas City."
American Suzuki should be held liable for the damage done to Jeremy Franklin's store because Suzuki approved and funded some of the advertisements through co-op programs, said Bill Carr, an attorney at White, Allinder, Graham, Buckley & Carr LLC, who represented Jeremy Franklin.
"They should be held responsible for their role in approving the ads and paying for parts of the promotion and not taking steps to stop it," Carr said.
American Suzuki spokesman Jeff Holland said the company is "disappointed" by the verdict and intends to appeal.