JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court has reversed a class-action judgment against Nissan in which owners would collectively receive $652,000 and attorneys would receive $1.9 million in fees over the alleged "bubbling" of dashboards in Infiniti FX vehicles.
The en banc ruling Oct. 5 reverses judgment arising in Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Jack Grate Jr.'s court following a jury trial.
Grate had entered a judgment requiring Nissan pay $2,000 in damages to each class member owning either FX35 or FX45 series vehicles, according to court documents.
Background information in the ruling states that Nissan heard complaints beginning in 2005 stating that when those vehicles' dashboards were exposed to heat and humidity, many would bubble. The automaker changed suppliers but the defect persisted, the ruling states. When it changed again, the number of defects dropped to 0.2 percent. The company also provided extended warranties covering the defect and replaced more than 45,000 dashboards at no cost to owners.
The theory advanced at trial was whether Nissan made affirmative misrepresentations in advertising the cars.
"Even though the class included many members whose dashboards already had been replaced by Nissan without cost and many other members whose original dashboards never 'bubbled,' Plaintiffs claimed at trial that every class member suffered damage as a result of Nissan’s alleged misrepresentations because the defective dashboards caused a general 'stigma' that decreased the value of all FX vehicles," the ruling states.
After trial and following a claims process, it was determined there were 326 affected class members, and of that number, 119 had already received replacement dashboards for free.
"[T]here is no evidence any of the remaining class members experienced any 'bubbling' with their dashboards," the ruling states.
The court's decision set aside the question of whether Nissan's advertising statements were actionable or "mere 'puffery'" – "statements that may sound like objective facts but that are merely opinions unsusceptible of proof or refutation."
The court held that it was willing to assume that when a carmaker represents its line is "luxury" or "premium," those statements "are sufficiently factual for this Court to leave to a jury the questions of whether those representations were false in a particular case and, if so, whether they were material."
"Even assuming Nissan’s representations [that] 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 ruling states. "Here, there was no evidence the dashboards included in the FX vehicles were low-end, 'economy' or even 'standard' dashboards."