Alleged Unintended Acceleration and Brake Defects in Automobiles

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Counsel for an automobile manufacturer retained Cornerstone Research and several experts to address plaintiffs’ claims in two national class actions.

In two national class actions against a large automobile manufacturer, plaintiffs alleged that many of the vehicles contained a safety defect and that the company misrepresented the safety and reliability of the vehicles in its marketing. The plaintiffs also claimed that consumers would have paid less if they had known about the alleged defect at the time of purchase, and that the subsequent disclosure diminished the vehicles’ value. In both cases, the plaintiffs sought to certify a class of all owners of affected vehicles.

The court did not certify the class in one case, and the other settled before the court ruled on class certification.

Counsel for the automobile manufacturer retained Cornerstone Research and several experts to address these claims. A Cornerstone Research expert assessed whether a common method could be used to measure the economic impact and damages for all putative class members. Through an analysis of detailed automobile transaction data, the expert showed that there was wide variation in prices and trends over time, which undermined a common methodology to determine impact and damages across the proposed class.

Cornerstone Research worked with Professor John Lynch of the University of Colorado at Boulder and Professor Kevin Lane Keller of Dartmouth College to analyze whether the alleged misrepresentation affected the purchasing behavior of all putative class members. Based on an analysis of the company’s marketing communications and vehicle purchaser information, Professors Lynch and Keller demonstrated that purchasing behavior differed significantly across consumers. In addition, many consumers did not rely on the manufacturer’s communications in their purchase decisions. Professors Lynch and Keller opined that, because of these differences, the impact was not uniform across putative class members.

Cornerstone Research worked with Professor Kimberly Neuendorf of Cleveland State University to analyze the volume and content of news coverage related to the alleged defect. Professor Neuendorf concluded that it was a major news story, and that consumers’ understanding of the defect varied substantially because the media reported the story in a wide range of contexts.

The court did not certify the class in one case, and the other settled before the court ruled on class certification.


For additional information on this case, please contact Michael Topper or Samid Hussain.

Case Experts

Kevin Lane Keller

  • E. B. Osborn Professor of Marketing,
  • Tuck School of Business,
  • Dartmouth College

Kimberly Neuendorf

Professor, School of Communication,
Cleveland State University

John G. Lynch Jr.

Distinguished Professor,
Founding Director, Center for Research on Consumer Financial Decision Making,
Leeds School of Business,
University of Colorado Boulder