ST. LOUIS (Legal Newsline) – The Missouri Supreme Court has overturned a $2.5 million verdict against Nissan North America Inc., which had been sued by a class of plaintiffs that alleged the automaker had produced vehicles with dashboards that became defective when there was heat or high humidity.
The only plaintiff listed was Robert Hurst, but the certified class had sued Nissan under the auspices of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act. The decision was issued Oct. 5.
Supreme Court Justice Paul Wilson wrote in his majority opinion that the trial court erred in its original decision.
"Assuming Nissan’s statements that the FX vehicles were 'luxury' and 'premium' and the like were in the latter category, there was no evidence from which the jury reasonably could find those statements were false," he wrote.
"Accordingly, it was error for the trial court not to grant Nissan’s motions for directed verdict and for judgment notwithstanding the verdict."
In the original trial, the court ordered Nissan to pay $2,000 in damages to each of the 326 class members and $1.9 million in attorney fees.
The case goes back to 2003 when Nissan began manufacturing vehicles under the designation of Infinity. According to the ruling, one was a FX35 and the other was a FX45 and in all 118,000 FX vehicles were sold. In 2005, Nissan started receiving complaints that the dashboards in the FX vehicles began to bubble when they were exposed to high humidity and temperatures, the ruling states.
According to the ruling, lawyers for the plaintiffs claimed during the trial that every class member sustained damages because of Nissan’s alleged misrepresentations. They claimed the problematic dashboards decreased the value of their vehicles because of a stigma associated with the autos. With that evidence, the jury ruled in favor of the class.
Nissan appealed and the state Supreme Court agreed with the carmaker.
"Even assuming Nissan’s representations the FX vehicles were 'premium' and 'luxury' and the like are factual statements, those statements could not have been false or misleading representations unless there is proof the FX vehicles were constructed with low-end, 'economy,' or 'standard' accoutrements," the opinion said.
Justin Arnold, general counsel for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, weighed in on the decision on the organization’s website.
"The MMPA was set up to protect consumers from misleading or fraudulent misrepresentations when they sustained actual damages. It was not created as a get-rich scheme for lawyers on the backs of Missouri’s employers," Arnold said.
"The MMPA should protect consumers by considering objective measures to determine their actual damages and rein in attorney’s fees that bear no reasonable relationship to the amount of actual damages suffered."