Car manufacturer Ford is facing allegations it forced customers to sign confidentiality agreements when they attempted to trade-in Ford cars that contained allegedly faulty transmissions.
A class action lawsuit against Ford began in the New South Wales Federal Court yesterday, with thousands of Ford customers involved in the case that alleges Ford engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct when selling 22 different car models between 2011 and this year.
The cars, ranging across Ford’s Fiesta, Focus, and EcoSport series, all contain the company’s PowerShift transmission system. A total of 70,000 cars are equipped with the system.
As reported by news.com.au, the thousands of customers are involved with the lawsuit are unhappy with the transmission, which they say caused the car to “shudder and jerk” unexpectedly and in some case, turn off completely.
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The case builds from customer Billie Capic, who’s 2012 Focus Sport lost power in February this year, with the car displaying “transmission overheating.”
The lawsuit is seeking refunds for customers, or the difference between the true value of the vehicle and the price they were purchased at.
News.com.au reports some customers have been unable to out about their experiences with Ford after signing a confidentiality agreement when they attempted to trade in their cars.
A copy of one of the documents reportedly shows that customers were asked to agree to not take actions “which would have the effect of interfering with or preventing the normal trading activities of Ford Australia or any other authorised Ford dealer”.
“This offer is subject to being kept strictly confidential between you and Ford Australia,” the document stated.
Bannister Law, the firm that launched the lawsuit, says on its website it has been contacted by many unhappy Ford vehicle owners, who say the transmission system “slips, bucks and jerks.”
Diane Chapman, solicitor at Bannister Law, told SmartCompany that Ford was still “treating it like a commercial transaction”.
“They aren’t acknowledging that there is a problem and that people feel unsafe in their vehicles,” Chapman says.
“People are desperate to get rid of these vehicles, and Ford is giving them that opportunity but also waiving their rights to further litigation.”
On the Ford Class Action Facebook page established by Bannister Law, many disgruntled customers have expressed their anger.
“Thank goodness someone’s taking action! I almost got rear-ended on the M4, T boned and rammed up the back whilst going UP a ramp all because my car would lose power and wouldn’t turn on for a while,” said one commenter.
Noam Greenberger, a senior lawyer at Legal Vision, told SmartCompany businesses that attempt to include releases and confidentiality clauses into commonplace agreements won’t get sympathy from the court.
“As a customer, you don’t expect there to be a clause that relinquishes your rights,” Greenberger says.
“If businesses try to slip a clause like that in there, the court won’t be sympathetic, they’ll see you acting in a sharp or cunning sort of manner.”
Greenberger says that when broad clauses that cause one party to lose their rights are included in commercial agreements, legal advice should be sought.
“There’s a common misconception that anything put in an agreement is enforceable,” Greenberger says.
“People should not presume that because they’ve agreed to various terms which deny them various rights, that those terms are actually enforceable.”
SmartCompany contacted Ford for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.