A man who bought what turned out to be a dud of a Ford F-150 in 2010 does not have to hire an expert to prove the truck was crap from the get-go - all the warranty and repair invoices from dealer service centers are enough to prove that, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today.
The ruling does not mean that Thomas Gliottone gets reimbursed under the state Lemon Law by Ford - and a Ford dealership - for the cost of the truck and the $8,000 supercharger the dealership installed - but that he gets to make his case to a jury.
A Superior Court judge had tossed his lawsuit after agreeing with Ford that he had failed to provide any proof from an automotive expert to support his case. In its ruling today, the appeals court gave the legal equivalent of a sigh and essentially said: Come the hell on. It pointed to all of the receipts Gliottone had that showed he'd repeatedly bought the truck back to the warranty dealer Ford recommended and that each visit left his truck in no better shape than before, with problems that included failing to start or losing power when it did and then stalling on the road.
Some examples - all of which started just three weeks after buying the truck and despite paying an extra $8,038.68 for a supercharger the dealer said Ford had recommended to cure all the problems, which it didn't:
Gliottone then returned to Tasca on June 1, 2011, because, again, the truck would crank but not start. Tasca kept the truck until June 24 and replaced the fuel pump.
Gliottone again returned to Tasca on August 3, 2011, this time because, when he drove the truck, the hill descent light would illuminate and the truck would lose power. It would also idle "rough." After also discovering problems with the accelerator pedal, Tasca eventually replaced a power control module. The truck was out of service until September 30, 2011.
Another invoice shows that the truck was serviced between November 21, 2011, and December 12, 2011, because the wrench light illuminated and there would be a power loss, precisely the issue that first had plagued the truck.
In addition to fighting on the "expert" issue, Ford specifically battled on the question of the supercharger, which it said was a modification not covered by its warranty.
The court disposed of Ford's arguments by looking at Gliottone's documentation.
At most, three weeks after Gliottone purchased the vehicle, which had at most 1,461 miles on it when first repaired, the vehicle was unable to start, stalled, and lost power. The relevant invoice showed that the supercharger was installed for "engine repair." A rational juror, given this information, clearly could conclude that the vehicle was defective or had a malfunction when sold. ...
Nor are the defendants correct that Gliottone needed an expert to negate the statutory affirmative defenses that the nonconformity was the result of an "attempt to repair the vehicle by a person other than the manufacturer, its agent or authorized dealer," or of "any attempt substantially to modify the vehicle which was not authorized by the manufacturer." ... While Ford does claim that the supercharger caused many of the issues that induced Gliottone to return to Tasca and that it was an unauthorized repair, these are disputed facts. A reasonable juror could conclude, without expert testimony, that problems that persisted unabated before the supercharger was installed, while it was in the truck, and after it was removed were not caused by the supercharger. A reasonable juror could also infer from the relevant Tasca invoice, Tasca's representations to Gliottone, Ford's actions in sending Gliottone to Tasca to repair the vehicle before and after the supercharger was installed, and Ford's continued payment for warranty services after the installation of the supercharger despite having no obligation to do so under the warranty if the malfunctions were caused by a "modification," that the installation of the supercharger was an authorized repair rather than an unauthorized one or a modification. Tasca appears to argue that Gliottone required expert testimony to demonstrate that the alleged nonconformity "substantially impaire[d] the use, market value or safety" of the truck. A jury does not need an expert, however, to explain that not starting, stalling, and losing power substantially impair the use, market value, or safety of a vehicle.