BANGKOK – The South Bangkok Civil Court has ordered Ford Sales & Service (Thailand) to pay 291 car owners for substandard vehicles in the country’s first class-action ruling.
The court’s ruling read out on Friday ordered the subsidiary of Ford Motor to pay 291 customers compensation in a range between 20,000 and 200,000 baht each, plus a 7.5% interest rate a year, for repair costs and lost time.
The company also had to pay their lawyer a 150,000-baht fee and an 800,000-baht reward for winning the case as required by law.
Another 12 plaintiffs did not receive the redress as they either had modified their vehicles or had not taken their cars to change the parts with the firm, the court said.
The award was for the production of unsafe, substandard and defective vehicles which put drivers at risk.
The firm has to follow the court order within seven days after the ruling.
The problem involves the PowerShift transmission, Ford’s six-speed dual clutch semi-automatic gearbox (DPS6), which some users alleged they had trouble with.
The plaintiffs bought Fiesta and Focus cars from Ford Motor Company (Thailand) and later found the defects. None of those taking part in the joint lawsuit reported injuries.
They took the cases to the court last year against Ford Motor Company (Thailand), Ford Operations (Thailand), Ford Services (Thailand) Co, and Ford Sales & Service (Thailand).
As the buyers encountered the same problems, the court allowed the case to be tried as a class action.
Ford Motor Company (Thailand), Ford Operations (Thailand) and Ford Services (Thailand) were later dropped from the lawsuit, leaving Ford Sales & Service the only accused on grounds that it manufactured and distributed the defective cars.
One of the plaintiffs, Varoporn Chamsanit, said the five-year warranty on her car’s transmission was about to run out and she was unhappy the court’s ruling did not mention Ford’s future responsibility for repairs.
“On one hand, I feel proud that we consumers got together and made this demand by ourselves and fought a long fight for several years now,” she said. “Today the court made it clear that Ford is at fault and awarded compensation for us. I am proud of the result that we received from the court and feel we’ve gotten a certain degree of justice.”
Jinna Yaemouam, the lawyer for the car owners, hailed the ruling as a victory for consumers although he disagreed on some points of the ruling, according to Thai media.
The lawyer said he would discuss with the clients whether they want to appeal since some still wanted the company to buy back their cars and 12 plaintiffs had not been compensated. They can appeal the ruling within 30 days.
Cars having the problems were the Fiesta and Focus models produced in 2011, according to the lawyer.
Opas Anantasomboon, chief of the South Bangkok Civil Court, said on Thursday that the case originally involved 421 affected owners but 113 had withdrawn after they took a settlement offered by the defendant before the trial.
Ford said in a statement that it respected the court’s verdict.
“We apologise for the inconvenience caused by the Powershift transmission problems and we reiterate that we will work earnestly to take responsibility for fixing them according to our customer service procedures,” the company said in a statement issued in Thai.
The case was viewed as a milestone for Thailand, where the civil law was amended three years ago to allow class action litigation for the first time, enabling consumers to seek damages for various complaints.
“If we consider this case, beyond the amount of money awarded, this shows that when consumers work together against any big company, we can achieve a victory. When we file a class-action lawsuit, we can prove the damage is widespread and real, not just hearsay,” Mr Jinna said.
Earlier, Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford’s Australian subsidiary was fined A$10 million ($7.6 million) for mishandling complaints about faulty transmissions in thousands of cars.
Faulty transmissions also have been targeted by consumer legal action in the US and Canada.
By Patipat Janthong, AFP, Reuters