Fiat Must Face Some Claims In Drivers’ Hacking Risk Suit

An Illinois federal judge on Monday refused to entirely dismiss a putative class action claiming some Fiat Chrysler Jeeps are susceptible to hacking, saying that the plaintiffs can continue to claim they overpaid for the vehicles.
District Court Judge Michael Reagan dismissed remaining claims that possible future car hacking could cause injury or death, but allowed two of the four plaintiffs in the case to continue pursuing their claims that the vehicles have depreciated in value in light of system vulnerabilities.

Four car owners — Brian Flynn, George and Kelly Brown and Michael Keith — sued the company in 2015 after researchers in a controlled experiment were able to hack the vehicle and gain control of certain functions.

The car owners claimed that Fiat’s software fix, released before news of the experiment broke, still left pathways open into the car’s computer system that hackers could exploit.

Fiat argued that since the patch was released there is no proof hackers have breached its systems and that the owners failed to show how the episode hurt them, saying that they never canceled trips or checked to see if their car’s value diminished. The carmaker added that the drivers failed to pinpoint what additional hacking vulnerabilities might exist, or even prove that any of its vehicles have been hacked since.

Judge Reagan trimmed the suit in September after finding that Flynn and Keith lacked standing to pursue damages for a possible future car hacking that could injure or kill them, but left intact the drivers’ claims that they overpaid for the cars.

The judge’s ruling on Monday addressed the Murphys’ claims, saying that their injury risk claims fail for the same reasons Flynn and Keith’s did. He also said that their state law fraud, fraudulent concealment and negligence claim were barred by the economic loss doctrine.

He did dismiss Fiat’s argument that because the Browns purchased their vehicle through a special pricing program it barred them from seeking depreciation damages.

“The Browns complain that Chrysler inappropriately relies on facts outside of the amended complaint to raise this argument, and they are correct,” he said. “Even if the court opted to consider facts outside of the amended complaint, Chrysler’s argument is unpersuasive, as paying a lower purchase price does not foreclose the possibility that the Browns could be entitled to damages related to overpayment or diminution of value.”

Judge Reagan also found that the Browns had a valid claim under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.

“The Browns have put forth sufficient allegations that they suffered an ascertainable loss as a result of a deceptive practice by defendants,” he said.

Counsel for the car owners did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. Representatives for Fiat declined to comment.

The car owners are represented by Christopher Cueto and Michael Gras of the Law Office of Christopher Cueto, and Stephen R. Wigginton, Christopher D. Baucom, Lucas Pendry, IJay Palansky and Emily Buckley of Armstrong Teasdale LLP.


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