In a major victory for consumers, a Santa Clara Superior Court judge has certified a class of Land Rover owners and lessees who allege that a factory defect in the vehicles’ alignment geometry created uneven tire wear. See Colon v. Jaguar Land Rover North America, LLC, No. 1-06-CV-075163 (Santa Clara Super. Ct. Jul. 12, 2012) (Order Granting Motion for Class Certification) (available here).
Beyond the obvious benefit to the newly-certified Colon class members, this decision is expected to help countless other California plaintiffs in auto defect and product liability cases. In Judge James P. Kleinberg’s analysis, he rejects the American Honda standard relied upon by the defendant, which requires a consumer class certification movant to “provide substantial evidence of a defect that is substantially certain to result in malfunction during the useful life of the product.” Order at 6, citing American Honda Motor Co. v. Super. Ct., 199 Cal. App. 4th 1367, 1374 (Cal. Ct. App. 2011). Judge Kleinberg held that, “under both federal and California law, proof of manifest damage is not a prerequisite to class certification.” Order at 6. He noted that such a requirement would violate the basic precepts of both California and federal class action jurisprudence, as “imposing this certification requirement . . . would require plaintiffs to prove the legal and factual merits of the claim at the time of class certification, which goes directly against clear contrary authority. Id.
Additionally, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that individual issues would predominate because uneven tire wear did not occur in all class vehicles, and those with uneven tire wear have varying degrees of it among the affected models. See Order at 7. Judge Kleinberg concluded that such differences are “an issue of individual damages, not liability,” and “if Plaintiff can prove the existence of an inherent defect . . . Plaintiff will have demonstrated liability based on common evidence, and the fact that class members would later have to individually prove . . . their damages does not defeat class certification.” Id.