Many Ford owners recently received notices for class action settlement for 2011-2016 Ford Fiesta and 2012-2016 Ford Focus vehicles with a dual clutch automatic transmission. The clutches in these vehicles have been known to be faulty for years. Ford previously extended the warranty coverage on certain transmission parts but still does not have a permanent or effective repair.
Under the class action settlement agreement, Ford will pay $50 for each transmission software flash or computer update that was not part of a recall. Owners of vehicles with specific transmission parts replaced 3 or more times can receive between $200 and 2325 in cash or discount certificates on new vehicles valued between $400 and $4650, depending on the number of times parts were replaced. The discount certificates expire within 12 months of issuance.
Owners can also go through binding arbitration to try to obtain a lemon law buyback. Through this process, an arbitrator would make a determination on whether the vehicle’s history met the standards of the lemon law in the state where the vehicle was purchased. If so, then the owner would get back the amount of money that they would receive under their state’s lemon law and the possibility of attorney’s fees if they were represented by an attorney. There is NO right to an appeal to a court or jury in the arbitration process.
This class action settlement is an “opt out” settlement. This means that, in most cases, owners of 2012-2016 Ford Focus and 2011-2016 Ford Fiesta cars do not have to take any action to be included in the settlement class and will automatically be included. Those included in the class action cannot sue Ford for transmission related issues, even if they do not receive an award from the class action. Vehicle owners must give notification in writing to be excluded from the settlement by September 5, 2017. Once excluded, owners are free to file a separate lawsuit against Ford. To obtain cash, a discount certificate or to arbitrate for a potential lemon law buyback, owners have to submit a claim at a future date. Claims cannot be submitted yet.
The question now is whether you should stay in the settlement or exclude yourself from the settlement. In my own practice litigating transmission issues in these vehicles, the cash offered in the class action settlement is lower than what I typically recover for clients with similar numbers of clutch replacements.
For potential lemon law claims submitted to arbitration, the case will be evaluated by an experienced arbitrator and I would expect that Ford will have representatives who are familiar with the arbitration process and know the right things to say to defeat claims. I would be concerned about anyone who has a valid case going before an arbitrator without an attorney.
My recommendation for anyone who owns a 2012-2016 Ford Focus or 2011-2016 Ford Fiesta is to contact an experienced lemon law attorney in your state to discuss your specific situation well before the opt out date of September 5, 2017. If an experienced lemon law attorney reviews your vehicle history and believes that they cannot do any better than what is offered in the class action settlement, then you would simply stay in the class and submit a claim at the appropriate time. If, however, an experienced lemon law attorney tells you that your vehicle history is strong enough to support an individual claim and will accept your case, then you would follow that attorney’s advice which would most likely be to opt out of the class action. Another option would be for and you to remain in the class action and have experienced lemon law attorney represent you in the arbitration and Ford would pay the attorneys fees if successful.
All of these options involve discussions with an experienced lemon law attorney in your state. To determine if you would get more benefits or money from the class action or a separate suit, or by having an attorney represent you in arbitration in the class action, you need to speak with an attorney well before the opt out date of September 5, 2017.