A dealership's failure to advise a customer to replace worn ball joints on a 2004 Ford F-250 Super Duty pickup proved a costly omission — nearly $7.5 million awarded by a jury.
The California Court of Appeal rejected a challenge by the dealership, Folsom Lake Ford, after the verdict. The store had acquired the truck at auction, sold it to a customer who returned it after multiple steering problems, and then resold it.
When the new owner brought the truck in with a steering complaint, a service technician determined that all four ball joints were worn. But the tech didn't document the degree of wear as required by the California Bureau of Automotive Repair or write his recommendation for replacement on the invoice, the court decision said.
The court found no evidence that the service adviser who worked with the owner communicated the problem, as regulations mandate. He said only that the problems were "normal" for a truck equipped with a lift kit and oversized wheels.
The owner loaned the truck to Robert Dunlap, who was driving it to tow an Econoline van when its right front tire blew out at 65 to 70 mph, the steering wheel locked, and it rolled over 2¼ times. He was permanently injured.
Although the insurers had the F-250 destroyed before it could be examined by experts, the appeals court found enough evidence that worn ball joints caused the accident. It cited testimony from forensic automotive and accident reconstruction experts.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Alan Laskin of Sacramento, says the lesson for dealers is "listen to your customers when they say there's a problem" and don't put their safety at risk. Dealership lawyer Douglas MacKay, of Rancho Cordova, Calif., said he wasn't authorized to discuss the case.