District Court sides with Ford in insurance claim case stemming from truck that caught fire

By David Hutton | May 4, 2017

EAST ST. LOUIS — The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois recently granted Ford Motor Co.’s motion to dismiss portions of an insurer's suit filed against it last year.

EAST ST. LOUIS — The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois recently granted Ford Motor Co.’s motion to dismiss portions of an insurer's suit filed against it last year.

The April 21 ruling follows Ford's motion for summary judgment in a case claiming breach of warranty after a Ford vehicle caught fire, destroying it and damaging a mobile home.

The automaker also moved to have counts alleging strict liability and negligence dismissed. The motion was filed on Dec. 23, 2016.

According to court records, on Oct. 7, 2014, a 2002 Ford F-150 owned by Daniel Vanderiet caught fire while parked outside Vanderiet’s mobile home in Shiloh.

The fire, which began in the engine compartment of the truck, allegedly was caused by a defective speed control deactivation switch and defects in the vehicle’s electrical and mechanical systems.

According to court records, the fire destroyed the truck and damaged Vanderiet’s mobile home.

Vanderiet purchased the Ford F-150 new from Jack Schmidt Ford in Collinsville in 2002, and he had insurance coverage on the vehicle through Progressive Northern Insurance Company of Illinois

Court records indicate that Progressive paid Vanderiet $118,751.67 in settlement for his property damage claim.

In the wake of the payment, Progressive indicated it has the right to file a claim against Ford to recover the money it paid out to Vanderiet.

Progressive filed a three-count complaint against Ford in the Cook County Circuit Court. The complaint asserted claims of breach of implied warranty of merchantability, strict liability and negligence.

The action was removed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois based on complete diversity of citizenship and subsequently transferred to the Southern District of Illinois.

On the count of implied warranty merchantability, Ford attorneys argued the claim is barred by applicable Illinois statute of limitations.

In seeking to have counts of strict liability and negligence dismissed, the auto maker asserted that Progressive’s claims are barred by the economic loss doctrine.

Progressive did not respond to Ford’s motion for summary judgment, and the court thus considered the facts presented by Ford to be undisputed.

On the count of implied warranty merchantability, Progressive alleged Ford breached its duty under the Illinois Uniform Commercial Code, which says that “a warranty that the goods shall be merchantable is implied in a contract for their sale if the seller is a merchant with respect to goods of that kind.”

Specifically, Progressive claimed that Vanderiet’s truck was not merchantable and not fit for the ordinary purposes for which a truck is used because “it had a defective speed control deactivation switch ... which constituted a hazardous and defective condition.”

The court found that Ford delivered the subject F-150 to the original purchaser, Jack Schmidt Ford, on Oct. 19, 2002. As a result, the statute of limitations for a claim of breach of implied warranty expired on Oct. 19, 2006. Because Progressive did not bring its claim until April 22, 2016—nearly a decade after the statute of limitations expired—that count is time-barred, and Ford was entitled to summary judgment by the court on Count I.

The court also sided with Ford on the count of strict liability.

“The court agrees with Ford," the court wrote in its opinion. "Illinois law is well-settled that the sudden or dangerous occurrence exception only applies when a plaintiff incurs either personal injury or damages to property other than the defective product itself."

Moreover, the economic loss doctrine barred Progressive from recovering for the loss of the truck because it does not constitute “other property” damaged as the result of a sudden or dangerous occurrence. Counts II and III were dismissed in regard to Progressive's attempts to seek damages for the loss of the truck. 

The court dismissed the parts of Counts II and III regarding the loss of the truck.

“Progressive’s claims in Counts II and III survive only to the extent it seeks recovery for damages to Vanderiet’s additional property,” Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel wrote. “Progressive’s claims for damages related to the loss of the truck are dismissed with prejudice."

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Ford Motor Company U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois East St. Louis

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