Judge denies plaintiffs additional time for discovery in uConnect hacking case; Trial set in March

By John Sammon | Nov 12, 2018

EAST ST. LOUIS – Chief Judge Michael J. Reagan of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois said no more discovery time will be allowed for the plaintiff and trial is set next year in a lawsuit alleging that hackers can take over Chrysler, Fiat and Jeep vehicles.

Reagan said a request for more discovery time in the case by the plaintiff would be inconsistent given the discovery time already allotted in a case three years old. He said allowing another six to 12 months of discovery would place an unfair burden on the defendant in expense and unnecessarily delay the litigation.

Former U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton on behalf of Belleville city attorney Brian Flynn filed the lawsuit in 2015 against Fiat, Chrysler and Harmon International Industries, the Stamford, Ct.-based manufacturer of uConnect.

The technology is a computerized platform that provides entertainment, navigation and communication options to drivers of Chrysler, Fiat, Jeep and Dodge vehicles, allowing you to start your car from inside your home, rely on a vehicle finder to locate your car in a crowded parking lot, or search for destinations with your wireless phone and send them to your vehicle’s navigation system among other options.

The lawsuit claims that hackers could override the controls of a vehicle and remotely take control of it.

Chrysler recalled 1 million of its vehicles, however the plaintiffs argue this did not go far enough in solving the problem.

In August, Reagan tossed out false advertising claims and that Chrysler unjustly enriched itself, but left standing allegations of faulty design and installation of uConnect devices. The lawsuit, a class action, contends that the car companies and Harmon Industries violated the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975, a federal law that guarantees warranties on consumer products, as well as Illinois laws designed to protect consumers.

Though there is no evidence of a hacker actually attempting to take over the controls of a vehicle, a technology-oriented magazine reportedly carried an article demonstrating how someone could gain control remotely.

Reagan said in an August article in carcomplaints.com the plaintiffs had provided sufficient evidence of cybersecurity defects in car control technology to create a genuine issue of material fact.

“Despite the defendants’ characterization that the defect alleged by the plaintiffs requires that they be hacked before bringing suit, the plaintiffs provide evidence that suggests that the uConnect integration in their vehicles is flawed such that the defect exists regardless of whether they personally have had their vehicles hacked,” Reagan was quoted in the article.

Attorneys for Harmon Industries asked the Seventh Circuit Court to follow the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco, which last year affirmed a district judge’s denial of class standing in a similar lawsuit filed against Toyota.

In December, Ninth Circuit judges held that the plaintiffs in the Toyota case had failed to sufficiently demonstrate injury from the risk of hacking and had not alleged that their vehicles had been hacked.

“More importantly, they do not allege they are aware of any vehicles that have been hacked outside of controlled environments,” the Ninth Circuit opinion stated.

The plaintiffs alleged what they termed an “imminent eventuality” the possibility of vehicle hacking, but Ninth Circuit judges discarded the allegation saying it was only speculative.

In addition they ruled that absent a specific injury, further allegations that vehicle owners suffered economic loss because their control systems could be potentially hacked was unsupported by facts and thus not credible.

The opinion pointed out that many modern cars on the roads have wireless technologies that could become susceptible to hacking or privacy intrusions.

Reagan reviewed the Ninth Circuit decision but declined to reverse his ruling in the case.          

In July, Chrysler filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit challenging the class certification. Reagan subsequently removed Flynn as class leader and replaced him with other car owners.

Reagan also lowered the scope of the litigation, refusing to certify the complaint as a nationwide class action, instead ruling that only certain claims from Illinois, Missouri and Michigan will be considered.

Trial in the case is set for March 11.

  

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