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The Toyota Wiring Lawsuit Is Back From the Dead Over a Technicality

You may have heard of the Toyota soy wiring class-action lawsuit that was dismissed in June 2018. Well, part of that Toyota lawsuit is alive on appeal.¬†What happened in the original suit? What’s the appeal? Read on to learn all about this fascinating case.

The original lawsuit against Toyota

In the original lawsuit, according to consumer site Carcomplaints.com, the plaintiffs stated that Toyota began to use “soybean coated wires” in various vehicles they produced. They claimed that the wiring type was defective because the coating drew rats and other rodents. After being chewed on, the wiring sustained damaged and caused a wide array of function failures leading to potential safety hazards.

Toyota was blamed in the proposed class-action lawsuit for damage to the wiring saying it should be covered under warranty. Placing the blame on the rats, the automaker denied that the problem was one the warranty should cover. The plaintiffs say in the suit that Toyota claims the chewing damage as an “environmental condition”  and not eligible under Toyota’s warranty for repairs for any “defects in materials.”

The lawsuit claimed that Toyota didn’t let its customers know that it switched to the soybean-coated wires. The automaker also didn’t disclose the fact that the coating is attractive to rodents which increased the likelihood of such an incident happening. The plaintiffs claimed Toyota’s actions violated consumer protection laws for years.

A previous version of the lawsuit was dismissed with the judge stating that the plaintiffs used competing allegations about why rats were compelled to chew the wires. Toyota maintained that the issue was far simpler than the plaintiffs claimed. Rodents are known to chew on a variety of things according to the automaker but that didn’t make it Toyota’s responsibility to deal with.

The suit was dismissed in June 2018. The judge ruled that the implied warranty violations relied on the action of the rats and not the vehicles themselves. The vehicles became unusable only after the action of the rodents. The judge ruled in favor of Toyota saying that the plaintiffs alleged a  defect, they should allege a design problem not a materials problem.

What the appeal is all about

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The plaintiffs, according to Car Complaints, had four opportunities to refile the suit. The judge, however, dismissed the lawsuit because it failed to prove that soy-based wiring constituted a “latent defect.”

An appeal was filed which partially affirmed and reversed the ruling by Judge Andrew J. Guilford. The appellants said that the soy-based wiring harness increased the incident of rodent damage to the vehicles.

Another appeal stated that customer complaints prove Toyota downplayed the incidents of damage caused by the use of soy wiring. The appeals court didn’t find those complaints to be persuasive. The district court also shot down attempts to apply implied warranty of merchantability and Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (MMWA) claims. It ruled that the defect in the wiring wasn’t an issue at the time the vehicles were sold.

To have a claim, the appeals court said that the defect had to exist at the time of the sale. They also found the district court identified the rodents erroneously as the supposed defect. The alleged defect was the soy-based wiring harnesses. The alleged defect was present at the time of the sale even though damage occurred later.

Interesting notes

The claims are that the use of soybean wiring harnesses draws mice, rats, and other rodents to chew at the wiring rendering the vehicle unsafe. 

Ultimately the lawsuit was dismissed over failure to plead with particularity under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b). The soybean-based wiring didn’t constitute a “latent defect.”

The district court judge dismissed the implied warranty of merchantability and the MMWA and claims under 13 states’ consumer protection statutes.

The plaintiffs, on appeal, acknowledge they can’t state claims under laws in Idaho, Illinois, and Oregon. They still challenge the dismissal of the remaining implied warranty and MMWA claims. The appeals court says the implied warranty requires that goods are up to the job they were made for, safe in condition, and free of defects.

Toyota maintains its claim that rats have historically been pests that behaviorally chew on things and that’s just “a fact of life.” The appeals court doesn’t dispute their claim.