Ford Hit with Class Action Suit for Catastrophic Transit Van Drive Train Design Defect

On July 21, the Ford Motor Company was sued in a class action lawsuit, for damages related to a defective driveshaft which fails with catastrophic results. It also appears to be a defect which Ford had known about for quite some time – and yet continued to market anyway.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of A. Blair Enterprises and “all other similarly situated for damages”. Those damages are those specifically “caused by Ford Transit vans equipped with uniform and uniformly defective driveshaft flexible couplings manufactured, distributed, warranted, and sold/leased by Ford Motor Company and/or its related subsidiaries or affiliates”. The vans in question were manufactured for the model years 2015 – 2017.

When these couplings fail, they reportedly fail dramatically and with disastrous consequences. The vans include a flexible coupling in the driveshaft called a “flex disc”.  This rubber disc was designed to be flexible to allow it to handle normal angular realignment in the driveshaft, while at the same time helping dampen vibration in the drive train. The problem is that these flex discs are alleged to be cracking under stress. When they crack, they weaken further and eventually fail completely.

In failure, the lawsuit alleges, the disc cracking “causes the driveshaft violently to tear away from the transmission, which can result in severe damage surrounding Vehicle components, including brake and fuel lines, the transmission, rear end differential, torque converter, evaporation container, and other parts, mangling the driveshaft in the process. The damage to these components contributes to a dangerous loss of Vehicle control, including the loss of brakes and engine power. Further, the forward end of the driveshaft disconnecting from the transmission creates the risk that the driveshaft will “catch” on the ground beneath the Vehicle, violently forcing the driveshaft upwards which can pierce into the passenger cabin and cause the Vehicle to “pole vault,” i.e. catapult the entire Vehicle into the air.”

With vehicles owned by A. Blair Enterprises and others already having reported the defect to Ford Motor Company, the automaker was at least well-aware of complaints about the flex disc failures. The company had, up until June 28, 2017 when Ford issued a Safety Recall notice for the Ford Transit models in question, according to the lawsuit “disclaimed knowledge or responsibility, blamed driver error, and did not cover the replacement of the failed flex disc or the repair of the collaterally damaged Vehicle components under warranty.”

The Safety Recall notice that followed suggest Ford may have finally figured out they had an extremely hazardous issue to deal with. According to the lawsuit, in the recall notice, Ford said that “continuing to operate a vehicle with a cracked flexible coupling may cause separation of the driveshaft, resulting in a loss of motive power while driving or unintended vehicle movement in park without the parking brake applied.” The notice went on to say, “separation of the driveshaft from the transmission can result in secondary damage to surrounding components, including brake and fuel lines.” Ford also acknowledged that “driveshaft separation may increase the risk of injury or crash.”

That was bad enough. But in the recall Ford not only does not have a solution to propose to the customers owning the vehicles, but instead “requires Class Vehicle owners to replace the flex disc “every 30,000 miles” until a permanent remedy (which Ford admittedly does not have) becomes available”. As the suit notes, the recommendation for a regular replacement of the disc makes it clear that Ford knows this is a serious problem that will happen often.

For the named plaintiff in the case, vehicle failures cause collateral damage to the vehicles, have the potential to harm the drivers, passengers, and commercial items carried in the vehicles, and also end up putting the vehicles out of service on a regular basis, even with the recommended 30,000-mile replacement cycle for the flex discs. A. Blair Enterprises ran up expenses of over $10,000 per vehicle when two of their Ford Transit vans were damaged as a result of the flex discs failing while the drivers were in traffic. In both cases the vehicle transmissions were destroyed, along with damage to brake lines, fuel lines, a fuel tank strap, a parking brake cable and other parts.  The plaintiff had to pay for the vehicles out of its own pocket and had to deal with the vans being out of service until repairs were complete. It also had to pay for hotel and other related costs for drivers stranded because of the failures.

When the plaintiff had these failures, it made the decision to inspect the other vans in its possession. It found that 100% of the other vans in its possession had flex discs showing “clear signs of incipient cracking and breaking”.

All this happened while, again according to the suit, “Ford knew of the Defect through its knowledge of and experience with automotive engineering and pre-release evaluation and testing of the components and vehicles, as well as from sources such as “field data;” replacement part sales data; early customer complaints made directly to Ford, collected by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s Office of Defect Investigation (“NHTSA ODI”), and/or posted on public online vehicle owner forums; testing done in response to those complaints; aggregate data from Ford dealers; and other internal sources. Yet despite this knowledge, Ford failed to disclose and actively concealed the Defect from Class Members and the public, and continued to market and advertise the Class Vehicles as “tough,” “safe,” “durable” vehicles “designed to do its job all day, every day, and for many years to come,” which they are not.”

The class action lawsuit was filed in United States District Court, Western District of Kentucky, Louisville Division, as “A. Blair Enterprises Inc. v. Ford Motor Company, Case No. 3:17-cv-00436-DJH”. The law firms of Jones Ward PLC and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Berstein LLP are representing the plaintiffs in the case.