LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) -- A plaintiff has alleged Maserati’s passive entry system was unsafe because it did not work when his child was locked in the car, but the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California has granted the manufacturer summary judgment.
Judge Cormac Carney was able to dismiss the case at this stage because the vehicle's user manual clearly explained the passive entry system was only designed to unlock the car in certain circumstances.
“The plaintiff from the case was a gentleman who leased the Maserati model," said Mitchell Morris, an experienced litigator and trial lawyer and a partner at McGuireWoods, LLP. “His wife and child were out with the vehicle, and the child locked himself inside. His wife was unable to use the passive entry system to get into the car.”
The plaintiff’s child locked himself in the car by using the rear door lock button. His mother's purse, which contained her remote keyless entry fob, was also locked in the car. The child was locked in the car for 10 to 15 minutes. The plaintiff alleged 10 counts against the vehicle manufacturer, including breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty of merchantability and products liability negligence claims.
The passive entry system is designed to allow the driver to enter the car should he or she accidentally lock the keys in the car. However, the system only allows passive entry in certain circumstances, and the vehicle user’s manual’s specific description of those circumstances won the case for Maserati.
“[The court] rolled up its sleeves and read the owner’s manual,” Morris said. "When you read through it carefully, you see that, very clearly, the owner’s manual says it will only let you unlock the car passively [without the keys] if one of the doors was still open when the car was locked.”
That would be useful, for example, if the driver left her purse and keys on the seat and used the button on the door to lock the car before closing it. Then she could use the passive entry system to get into the car because one of the doors was still open when the car was locked.
"The plaintiff’s circumstance was different,” Morris said. "All the doors were locked, and the child locked the door from the inside. The system was not designed to address that situation. The owner’s manual didn’t say it was meant to.”
Maserati was granted summary judgment because the manufacturer clearly explained in the manual which circumstances the passive entry system could be used, and the court did not find evidence of system malfunction.
"What’s interesting is that the court took the motion to dismiss and converted it into a motion for summary judgment so they could consider evidence, chiefly the owner’s manual and related materials, before the parties had engaged in discovery,” Morris said.
Morris believes this case will set an example.
"I think the takeaway is that this particular court is going to very closely scrutinize the written materials on which the warranty or claim is based and see whether it supports what the plaintiff’s claim says,” he said. "It’s not going to just take the plaintiff’s word for it."