Court revives warranty suit against Mercedes

By Eric Freedman
Automotive News / August 01, 2005

Back to courtIssue: Should a lawsuit claiming that Mercedes-Benz failed to honor warranties on a 2001 SLK230 be reinstated?

Outcome: Georgia appeals court says yes, ruling a jury should decide the case.

A Georgia Court of Appeals panel has ruled that it's up to a jury to decide whether Mercedes-Benz USA LLC violated express and implied warranties on a 2001 SLK230 roadster.

The three-judge panel unanimously revived a lawsuit by Cheryl and Edna Hill, who, according to the court, "made 22 trips to the dealership for repairs over a three-year period" starting a month after they bought the car.

The Hills claim damages based on the diminished value of the car with its defects, but a lower-court judge dismissed the case without trial.

That was wrong, said appellate Judge Debra Bernes, because "the Hills came forward with evidence showing the replacement of multiple parts and extensive repairs over nearly three years." And, the court said, there was testimony that problems continued as late as the last time Cheryl Hill drove the car. Among them: The engine-check light came on, the engine hesitated and jerked, and the car squeaked when anyone got in or out.

The court said the fact that the first complaint about the car - when the engine coolant-level sensor needed replacement - came after fewer than 2,000 miles raises questions about whether the car was drivable at the time of sale.

The court also said that Cheryl Hill's lay opinion about how the defects reduced the value of the car provides an adequate foundation for a jury to consider the amount of potential damages.

Said the Hills' lawyer, Scott Cohen: "What is so important is the appellate court recognized that when plaintiffs are offering evidence as to damages, that is properly for the jury to decide. It recognized the consumers' right to their day in court."

Cohen also noted an affidavit by Cheryl Hill stating she felt the car was worth only $10,000 when she bought it, "not the $47,000 or so she paid for it." He also said the car was never repaired satisfactorily.

Mercedes-Benz spokeswoman Donna Boland said the company's position is that there were no breaches of warranty because the dealership had repaired the problems.

Boland also said that allowing customers to offer a lay opinion on a vehicle's diminished value conflicts with established law.

Cohen said the case will proceed to trial unless there's a settlement.