R. Scott King, BSME ::::
Federal regulations require the placement of weight limitation labels on all motor vehicles. Most often, these labels express the weight value in terms of the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). Some vehicles particularly motor coaches and recreational vehicles, provide additional limiting values such as Cargo Carrying Capacity (CCC), Sleeping Capacity, and Towing Capacity. The subtraction of these additional values from the GVWR provide owners and users an indication of cargo weight they can carry and help ensure that user loading does not exceed the vehicle’s safe load limit. Common sense standards of utility and suitability of use require that a vehicle’s GVWR be greater than it’s unloaded, unfueled, and unoccupied weight. After all, what good is a vehicle that leaves the factory assembly line already at its maximum GVWR? But that’s what happened to the purchasers of over 50 luxury motor homes.
Several purchasers of these highly customized coaches were unaware that simply by fueling up and climbing aboard, their vehicles were overweight. Only after an investigation of a single fatal accident involving one such coach, followed by an additional overweight violation by another, did the manufacturer begin to take affirmative action. Remedial and risk mitigation efforts included major alterations of some of the coaches’ frames, axles, and onboard electrical systems. In some cases, these efforts provided owners increased CCC to nearly the indicated and advertised values. In others, however, they did not. Several owners of such vehicles brought suit against the manufacturer with issues relating to warranty and product defect.
Venued at various locations throughout the country, these claims progressed deeply into discovery, through which experts working jointly on plaintiffs’ behalf discovered troubling patterns of careless design, engineering, and manufacturing, through not only the original design phases, but throughout the remediation phase, as well.
Plaintiffs’ engineering expert offered testimony that the affected coaches were originally sold overweight and incapable of carrying their advertised weight load, and that this problem persisted even after several years of defendant’s efforts to solve it. Ultimately, the plaintiff argued that the coaches they purchased could not be used in the manner they had expected and that the manufacturer advertised and warranted they could be.
Two cases went to a jury trial, both resulting in plaintiff verdicts of varying awards. The third case settled shortly before trial.Case Studies