Volkswagen Shattering Sunroofs Lawsuit

Volkswagen Shattering Sunroofs Lawsuit

  • By: Staff Writer
  • Published December 23, 2020

A putative class action lawsuit has been filed alleging that Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. (“VW”) has failed to warn consumers about the dangers of “sunroofs which spontaneously shatter” in certain VW models.

The plaintiffs allege “[t]he shattering events are so powerful that startled drivers compare it to the sound of a gunshot, after which glass fragments rain down upon the occupant of the vehicle, sometimes while driving at highway speeds.”  They allege drivers have reported that: falling glass shards have cut them and their passengers; glass shards have also damaged the interior of the vehicles; and the issue has caused near-miss accidents due to the drivers being startled or distracted by the shattering.  They contend VW has known about the sunroof defect at least dating as far back as December 2009.

The plaintiffs argue “[t]he actual material cost of sunroofs is relatively low, making the option a very profitable feature in the automotive industry,” yet “[s]unroofs are an expensive upgrade option that can add thousands of dollars to the purchase or lease price and hundreds to over a thousand dollars to replace.” 

The named plaintiffs are bringing their action on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated who purchased or leased class vehicles in the state of California.  The VW models with the allegedly defective factory-installed sunroofs include the following:

  • 2005-2017 Jetta
  • 2015-2017 Golf
  • 2006-2015 GTI
  • 2009-2010 CC
  • 2007-2016 EOS
  • 2006-2009 Rabbit
  • 2012-2017 Passat
  • 2004-2006 Touareg
  • 2011-2017 Touareg
  • 2008 R32 Base
  • 2009-2017 Tiguan

One of the named plaintiffs, Rosa Deras, alleges as follows: she leased a 2013 Volkswagen Jetta with a sunroof, and purchased it at the end of the lease in 2016.  Subsequently, in 2017, she was driving on the freeway when a loud “BOOM” like a gunshot or explosion went off in her car, followed by “a hail of glass falling on her head and the interior of the vehicle.”  She noticed there was a large hole in the center of the windshield, with the edges pointing out and up, indicating the break came from the inside.

The plaintiffs allege VW “has long known, through [National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) complaints, through consumer complaints lodged directly with VW, through consumer complaints lodged through VW dealerships, and through VW’s own testing, that the Sunroof Defect exists.”  The plaintiffs cite, for instance, a December 14, 2009, consumer complaint “that the sunroof of their 2010 Volkswagen Jetta spontaneously exploded outward, and that the vehicle was going to be taken to a VW authorized repair facility for repairs.” 

In addition, the complaint cites as alleged bases of VW’s knowledge of the defect a 2012 NHTSA investigation into the 2012 Hyundai Velostar in connection with complaints of spontaneously shattering panoramic sunroofs.  Hyundai conducted a limited recall.  Plaintiffs further allege NHTSA has sent, in 2012 and 2013, information requests relating to exploding sunroofs to Ford, VW, Hyundai, and Nissan—further purportedly establishing VW’s knowledge of the defect.  Plaintiffs also cite VW’s voluntary recalls of certain VW Beetles with panoramic sunroofs, Audi 2013 and 2014 A8 and S8 sedans with standard sunroofs, and 2012 Q5 vehicles due to sunroofs.  And, the complaint cites to an investigation conducted by the Korea Automotive and Testing Research Institute (KATRI)—South Korea’s automotive safety and testing arm—into shattering sunroofs of numerous automotive manufacturers, of which Plaintiffs contend VW was kept apprised.

As alleged in the complaint, the warranties for the class vehicles are identical or substantially similar to the following – “[e]very new Volkswagen model has a basic limited warranty of 3 years/36,000 miles with roadside assistance, a powertrain warranty of 5 years/60,000 miles (10 years/100,000 miles for base trim Touraeg) and corrosion perforation for 12 years/120,000 miles.”  The plaintiffs allege they and the class members experienced damage from the sunroof defect within their vehicles’ warranty periods, but VW has “systematically denied coverage with respect to the defective sunroofs,” leaving repair costs to the individuals and their automotive insurance policies.

The complaint raises claims of breach of implied warranty, violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law and Consumers Legal Remedies Act, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, and fraud by omission.  The plaintiffs seek remedies including damages, an order requiring VW to disclose and repair the defective sunroofs and cease distributing defective sunroofs in future VW vehicles pending an investigation, and attorney fees.

In February 2019, the court entered an order denying Defendants’ motion to dismiss certain claims in Plaintiffs’ second amended complaint.  The court noted it had previously dismissed UCL, CLRA, and fraud by omission claims from the plaintiffs’ first amended complaint, but it had done so because the facts cited by the plaintiffs did not establish the requisite knowledge of the alleged defects.  In denying VW’s motion to dismiss claims in the second amended complaint, the court noted the plaintiffs had alleged additional facts, including expanding on the NHTSA investigations, prior recalls, and the KATRI investigation.  “Viewed in a light most favorable to Plaintiffs” at this point, the Court found “the [second amended allegations] are sufficient to raise a plausible inference of knowledge.”  The parties are currently engaged in discovery.

The case is Deras v. Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., case number 4:17-cv-05452-JST, in the District Court for the Northern District of California.

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