By John W. Scanlan, J.D.
Mercedes-Benz USA has agreed to settle a class action alleging that many of its vehicles from 2000 to 2007 contained a safety defect that could cause their heated seats to spark, smoke, and catch fire, under a proposed settlement agreement and release submitted to the federal district court in California handling the suit. The unopposed agreement, which provides for repairs to the wiring of the seat heaters, is set for hearing on September 18, 2017 (Callaway v. Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC, August 21, 2017, Selna, and J.).
In May 2014, one of the owners of a 2006 Mercedes-Benz R350 smelled smoke while driving and realized that the left side of the seat had burned through the leather and a hole had burned through her dress. The dealership refused to repair the seat because she refused to sign an agreement releasing all claims against Mercedes-Benz USA relating to the incident. Other owners having similar experiences also were refused repairs without signing a release agreement. She and her husband filed a putative class action suit representing all California owners and lessees of all models of Mercedes-Benz vehicles from 2000 to 2014, asserting that the vehicles contained various design and/or manufacturing safety defects of which the company not only failed to warn consumers, but actively concealed these defects. As a result, they alleged that the class members did not receive the benefit of their bargains, received vehicles presenting a risk of physical injury, and sustained injuries including loss of money and property.
Settlement. The terms of the settlement would apply to all current and former owners and lessees of 2000-2007 M-Class, 2006-2007 R-Class, and 2007 GL-Class vehicles with original equipment seat heaters in the United States. All participating class members who are current owners or lessees who submit a claim form within 60 days of receiving the class notice would be entitled to a "bypass wire repair procedure" at an authorized dealer that will be covered by a two-year parts warranty. Current owners and lessees who do not submit the form may still receive partial coverage of a repair for no more than two years after the date the order and judgment become final (the "effective date") or 180,000 miles from their vehicles’ in-service date, whichever occurs first, ranging from 15 to 75 percent of the "reasonable repair amount." Class members may be reimbursed for past repairs up to the reasonable repair amount if they submit a reimbursement claim form within 60 days of receiving the class notice. Former owners and lessees who did not experience any seat heater malfunctions during the time they owned or leased their vehicles would be excluded from the class.
Class members agreed to waive any claims against Mercedes-Benz USA, its dealerships, any all other entities and individuals related to repair of these vehicles. Finally, Mercedes-Benz agreed not to oppose any award of attorneys’ fees to class counsel up to about $5.62 million and costs up to about $584,000.
The case is No. 8:14-cv-02011-JVS (Dam).
Attorneys: Eric F. Yuhl (Yuhl Carr LLP) for Elizabeth Callaway. Troy M. Yoshino (Squire Patton Boggs US LLP) for Mercedes Benz USA LLC.
Companies: Mercedes Benz USA LLC
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