— A Toyota rodent lawsuit has been dismissed after the plaintiffs failed in their claims that soy wiring attracts rats and other animals, causing them to chew and damage the wiring.
According to the plaintiffs, Toyota switched to “soybean coated wires” in various cars, vans, SUVs and trucks, but the wiring is allegedly defective because it attracts rats and other rodents. Once chewed, the damaged wiring can cause all kinds of vehicle functions to fail, allegedly creating a safety hazard.
The proposed class-action lawsuit blames Toyota for damage to the wiring that allegedly should be covered under warranty. But the automaker blames the rats for the problem, something not covered under warranty.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim Toyota says the damage is an "environmental condition" and therefore excluded from Toyota’s warranty to repair any “defects in materials."
The plaintiffs also allege “Toyota failed to disclose to consumers” both that “it had made the transition” to the soybean-coated wires and that the coating is “more attractive and enticing to rodents and therefore increases the probability" the wiring will be chewed.
The plaintiffs argue Toyota violated fraud and consumer protection laws and has known for years the vehicles contain soy wiring that attracts rodents. According to the lawsuit, the use of soy wiring has caused owners a huge expense for repairs because the automaker refuses to pay for repairs under warranty.
In addition, Toyota allegedly should have told owners the soy wiring would cause an increase cost of ownership, but the judge ruled against this argument. According to the judge, the claim is vague as to what "repairs" were "necessary and how much those repairs might cost."
Then there is the plain wording of the express warranty that doesn't cover damage to wiring from rodents. Even though the plaintiffs refer to customer complaints about damage from rodents, the judge points out the damage wasn't always connected to soy-based parts.
"Considering this considerable variance, it isn’t clear that Toyota could have specifically articulated any increased “risk” to any particular part of Plaintiffs’ vehicles because of the soy coated wiring." - Judge Andrew Guilford
In dismissing a previous version of the Toyota soy wiring lawsuit, the judge said the plaintiffs used competing allegations about why rats were eating the wires.
But Toyota says the subject is more simple than the plaintiffs make it sound. According to the automaker, rodents like to chew on things. Lots of different things. Yet the plaintiffs want to blame this fact on the automaker.
In addition to claiming rats and other critters gnaw on things that don't contain soy, rodents also get inside vehicles for reasons that have nothing to do with enticement by soy wiring.
According to Toyota, all this is “entirely consistent with the idea that something other than insulation might explain these plaintiffs’ various rodent encounters.”
However, the judge says those arguments are moot because all the plaintiffs' claims are dismissed on other grounds.
In its motion to dismiss, Toyota argues the express warranty doesn't cover "design defects," but the plaintiffs say they're not alleging design defects, only defects in materials because the wiring attracts rodents.
But the judge came down on the side of Toyota and said if the plaintiffs allege a defect at all, they allege a design defect rather than defects in the materials.
The judge ruled the claim against Toyota is that the decision to use soy wiring is allegedly a problem across the board, not that individual wires are defective.
"The express warranty doesn’t cover that kind of defect, so dismissal of the express warranty claims is appropriate."
As for implied warranty claims, Toyota says the plaintiffs cannot show the vehicles were not fit for their ordinary purpose when the vehicles were sold. Yet, that's exactly what the plaintiffs claim in the lawsuit, saying they wouldn't have bought the vehicles if they would have known about the soy wiring.
Furthermore, the plaintiffs claim the choice to use soy-based wiring makes the vehicles dangerous.
However, the judge ruled the claims of violations of the implied warranties rely not on the vehicles, but on the actions of the rats that chew vehicle parts. If a vehicle does become unusable because a rodent chews wiring, it occurs only after the rodents have done their work.
"Plaintiffs are, in effect, asking the Court to stretch the implied warranty of merchantability to include some promise that no external actor will later harm Plaintiffs’ vehicles. The Court declines to extend the doctrine so far."
The plaintiffs never claim Toyota sold them vehicles unfit to be driven, so the judge dismissed implied warranty of merchantability claims. The judge also dismissed claims under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act because of failures of the express, implied and state warranty claims.
Although Toyota Japan was pulled into the lawsuit recently, the corporation told the judge it does not market, sell or control the distribution of vehicles in the U.S.
It also said Toyota Japan and Toyota USA are “separate and independent legal entities” and Toyota USA maintains its “own corporate books and financial records, hold [its] own bank accounts and files [its] own tax returns.” Toyota Japan argued it shouldn't be named in the lawsuit and the judge agreed, dismissing claims against Toyota Japan for lack of personal jurisdiction.
The judge ruled this was the plaintiffs' fourth attempt at amending their lawsuit and the claims are no more sound than when the original complaint was filed. Saying the "express warranty, implied warranty, and Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act claims are incurably defective," the judge dismissed the lawsuit, but this time without leave to amend.
“We are gratified that, after repeated failures to allege facts that would support their defect claims, the Court dismissed plaintiffs’ meritless claims without leave to amend.” - Toyota company spokesperson
The Toyota win joins a recent victory for Honda when a federal judge dismissed a class-action lawsuit alleging rodents damaged Honda wiring related to the power steering systems.
The Toyota Rodent/Wiring lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California - Albert Heber v. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., et al.