The automobile industry is key to the American cultural landscape, defining the economic growth experienced by the country in the 20th Century. About 92 percent of American households have access to at least one car, and trucks carry goods across the nation.
As with anything so integral to most Americans’ daily lives, the car often finds its way to the legal system. Auto accidents are the source of many lawsuits, and the auto manufacturers themselves are also subject to litigation.
Docket Alarm analysis of the so-called Big Three American automakers – Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis – reveals that the companies face a disproportionate amount of federal litigation in California courts.
According to the analytics – ranging dating from 2019 to November 2022 – an overwhelming majority of litigation involving the automobile industry occurs in California courts (>2,250); and, more than half of that litigation takes place in the California Central District Court, located in Los Angeles, far from the companies’ headquarters in the Eastern District of Michigan.
The cases against these three auto industry giants span a variety of case types, but most of the cases are filed under product liability and contract-related types. These cases are often from customers who say they bought defective vehicles, allege negligent repair, and argue the warranty on said purchased vehicles was breached. The Song-Beverley Act, a California law that provides enhanced protections for consumers in that state, is frequently cited by plaintiffs in these lawsuits.
In recent years, over 50 percent of the 2,180 federal cases involving Ford Motor Company and related entities concern breach of contract or product liability, and much of those cases occurred in California. The Northern, Central, and Eastern Districts of California all saw more cases for Ford than its home turf in Michigan.
Ford is also seeing litigation activity related to a multidistrict product liability case concerning transmissions.
Ford employs a large cast of law firms. The most frequently appearing firms include Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, Bowman and Brooke. and Shook, Hardy & Bacon.
Stellantis is the product of of successive mergers involving American automaker Chrysler, Italy’s Fiat, and the PSA Group of France. It and its predecessors have seen nearly 1,700 federal cases since 2019. As with Ford, the top two case types for Stellantis and related entities are contract-related, and most occur with in California.
Stellantis also shares a top law firm with Ford – Spencer Hugret of Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani represents both companies frequently in “exposure complex automotive product liability matters.”
Other enlisted law firms include Clark Hill, Bowman and Brooke, and Rose Waldorf.
General Motors was the largest automaker in the world until it was supplanted by Toyota in 2008. It has seen 981 cases since 2019. Unlike Ford and Stellantis, GM faces the most cases in Michigan, New York, and Texas. While it may not be sued in California so frequently, GM adheres to the pattern set with its case types: contract and product liability.
GM’s most-used law firms include Dykema Gossett, Kirkland & Ellis, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, and Crowell & Moring.
It is clear that, at least statistically, the Song Beverly Act and other consumer-focused statutes drive litigation against automakers. The adoption of electric vehicles, made by different companies and generally more difficult to repair, could upend this trend in the coming years.