Wheeler Trigg O'Donnell is nationally recognized as one of the premier trial firms representing manufacturers of automobiles, trucks, and automotive components in a wide range of litigation and regulatory matters throughout the United States. Our experience extends to South America and Canada, as well.
We have tried or appeared as counsel in automotive industry cases in dozens of states. WTO lawyers have also briefed and argued appeals in federal and state appellate courts throughout the country, including the United States Supreme Court. Our teams routinely assist in hearings, investigations, and negotiations with or by legislatures, agencies, and state attorneys general.
Named partner Malcolm Wheeler has defended automotive manufacturers at trial in several highly publicized cases, including the Ford Pinto criminal prosecution, the first "no airbag" case tried to verdict and the first defective airbag case tried to verdict.
- Represent a major automotive supplier in consumer class actions involving alleged failure to adhere to safety requirements.
- Won a second unanimous jury verdict for a leading auto-parts manufacturer in an 11-year-old breach of contract dispute in federal court in Kentucky. Due to the results of a prior appeal, WTO's client held the burden of proof on key issues in the trial.
- Dukes v. Michelin (4th Dist. Ct. App. Fla. 2019) - Won affirmance for Michelin to preserve a defense verdict WTO won in a nine-week product liability trial in Florida with $80 million to $1.2 billion at stake.
- FCA v. Spitzer Autoworld Akron, 17-1161 (6th Cir. 2018) - Argued and won for FCA (fka Chrysler) in the Sixth Circuit in a case involving the question of whether federal legislation enacted following the Chrysler bankruptcy preempted Ohio state dealer laws.
- Walker v. Ford Motor Co., 2017 CO 102 - Won a significant victory for Ford Motor Co. in the Colorado Supreme Court. The case reestablishes that the risk-benefit test is the appropriate test for juries to assess whether a product has been defectively designed. The Court also held that a manufacturer could not be negligent if it designed a "reasonably safe" product.
- West Colorado Motors (AutoNation) v. General Motors et al., 16SC650 (Colo. 2017) - Obtained a rare reversal of certiorari from the Colorado Supreme Court in a high-stakes dealer relocation dispute for GM.
- Won a complete defense jury verdict for a major auto parts manufacturer in federal court in Kentucky. WTO was called in just six months before trial in this protracted contract dispute that had already included two trips to the Sixth Circuit.
- Neale v. Volvo Cars of North America, LLC, No. 14-1540 (3rd Cir. 2015) - Won a precedential, Third Circuit opinion for Volvo that vacated a district court's order to certify classes in six states to pursue claims that the sunroof drains in all Volvo models manufactured from 2003 to the present are defective. The circuit court remanded the case with instructions to "rigorously analyze predominance in the first instance."
- L.G. Motorsports v. NGMCO & Michelin (5th Cir. 2015) - Won Fifth Circuit affirmance of a trial court's summary judgment for Michelin in a case alleging that Michelin and General Motors conspired to prevent the plaintiff from obtaining Michelin racing tires for use in the American Le Mans racing series. The original complaint included antitrust claims, which were dismissed, and unfair competition claims that survived until discovery, when no evidence supporting such claims was produced and the trial court granted summary judgment.
- Won Montana Supreme Court affirmance of a jury verdict favoring Ford Motor Company in a product liability case involving a fatal car accident.
- Represented major automotive manufacturers in litigation involving dealer terminations in Oregon and Colorado.
- Successfully briefed and argued in opposition to an appeal by two Las Vegas automobile dealerships arising from WTO's successful defense of the establishment of a new dealership approved by WTO's client, Chrysler Group.
- Hoffman v. Ford (10th Cir. 2012) - Won Tenth Circuit reversal of a federal district court jury verdict favoring the plaintiff and secured a judgment in favor of Ford Motor Co. in a product liability case involving a rollover crash in which the plaintiff was rendered a quadriplegic.
- Schanel v. Ford Motor Co. (Colo. Ct. App. 2012) - Defended the appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals of a 2010 jury verdict that WTO won for Ford Motor Company in an electronic throttle product liability case.
- Chapman Las Vegas Dodge v. Chrysler - Successfully defended Chrysler against a protest filed by two local dealers to stop Chrysler's establishment of a new Las Vegas dealership. This successful establishment was viewed as a test of New Chrysler's ability to expand its dealership network following the economic downturn and termination of almost 800 dealers in Old Chrysler's 2009 bankruptcy.
- Eagle v. Chrysler - Represented Chrysler in a case in which several Chrysler dealers asserted Chrysler failed to comply with an obligation to provide new dealerships following its bankruptcy. Following trial, the Court entered judgment for Chrysler.
- Successfully defended Chrysler against an automobile dealership's allegations of oppressive and unreasonable terms in a letter of intent to enter into a franchise agreement after Chrysler's bankruptcy in a franchise case of national significance.
- Mercedes-Benz v. Star Automobile (M.D. Ga. 2011) - Won a preliminary injunction in Georgia for Mercedes-Benz USA in a dealership breach of contract dispute involving the sale of a dealership to a proposed buyer that MBUSA did not want as a Mercedes-Benz dealer.
- Wirsz v. Nissan (Cal. Los Angeles Cnty. Super. Ct.) - Won a unanimous defense verdict in California Superior Court for Nissan in a lawsuit involving a claim that an allegedly defective seat system resulted in the plaintiff's quadriplegia following a horrific car crash.
- Co-managed with one other law firm the response to requests from 418 dealers for arbitration relating to the bankruptcy of Chrysler Group LLC and following Chrysler's termination of those dealerships. WTO litigated 187 of these Section 747 arbitrations, and, as directed by Congress, resolved all of the litigation within seven months--with a 96% success rate.
- Morgan v. Ford (W.Va. 2009) - Won summary judgment from the West Virginia Supreme Court in a federal preemption case involving claims that Ford Motor Co. should have used different glass in its vehicle windows.
- Larry Menke v. DaimlerChrysler, 90 Cal. Rptr. 3d 389 (2009) - Won affirmation for Chrysler before the California Court of Appeals in an opinion that established favorable precedent for manufacturers operating in California. The Court affirmed a trial court's complete dismissal of claims against Chrysler for rejecting a prospective dealership purchaser.
- Thunder Mountain Custom Cycles v. Thiessen Products, 72 F.3d 604 (D. Colo. 2008) - Obtained dismissal of claims against a manufacturer of high-end motorcycle parts in a product liability case in federal court in Colorado. Following dismissal of plaintiff's claims, WTO's client was awarded over $1 million on its counterclaim of payments owed.
- White v. Ford, 500 F.3d 963 (9th Cir. 2007) - Won a reversal and a new trial on the punitive damages phase of a product liability case originally tried by another firm in 1998. Persuaded the second jury to award only one-third of the amount awarded in the initial trial.
- Auto Stiegler v. Mercedes-Benz USA (C.D. Cal. 2006) - Won a complete jury verdict in a franchise dispute in Los Angeles, defeating all of the plaintiff's claims and winning all six counterclaims and an award of over $7 million, including punitive damages, for Mercedes-Benz USA.
- Won a jury defense verdict in U.S.D.C. for the District of Colorado for an automobile manufacturer in a wrongful death crashworthiness case.
- Estrada v. Nissan - Defeated class status and a recall attempt against Nissan in a putative class action involving airbags.
- Grimes v. Mazda - Won a defense verdict in Kentucky for Ford Motor Co. in a rollover case involving a Mazda pickup truck.
- Geier v. American Honda, 529 U.S. 861 (2000) - Won a U.S. Supreme Court victory for Honda in a precedent-setting case involving federal preemption standards as applied to airbags in the automotive industry.
- Represented Ford Motor Co. in a 10-month, nationwide class action jury trial in California involving thick film ignition modules in 12 million vehicles. The trial ended in a hung jury.
- Tebbetts v. Ford - Won a New Hampshire "no airbag" trial for Ford before getting all no-airbag cases held preempted in Geier in the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Defended Ford Motor Co. in a Missouri class action involving automobile transmissions.
- Won dismissal for Ford Motor Co. in an Alabama class action involving the Bronco II.
- State of Indiana v. Ford - Successfully defended Ford Motor Co. against criminal charges of reckless homicide in the design of the Pinto automobile.
- Steenbergen v. Ford Motor Co. - Successfully defended the first "no-airbag" case tried to a verdict.
- Gray v. Ford - Successfully defended the first airbag fatality case tried to verdict.
- Montag v. Honda - Won affirmance in the Tenth Circuit of summary judgment on federal preemption grounds.
- Macko v. Ford - Won summary judgment on federal preemption grounds on inadequate warning labels claim.
- Binakonsky v. Ford, 133 F.3d 281 (4th Cir. 1998) - Won summary judgment from the district court in a design defect case. When plaintiffs appealed, the Court of Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
- Successfully defended Ford in a fraud case when the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York dismissed the plaintiffs' various consumer fraud claims.